Due in large part to the open forum of the Internet, the documentary is experiencing a golden age. More and more filmmakers are turning to the nonfiction medium to tell stories, present social and political issues and advance agendas. And people are watching: Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 grossed over $220 million (for context, that's about what the Star Trek sequel grossed last year). Netflix has a diverse selection, and the commensurate HuffPo and Buzzfeed "Documentaries you must watch" lists.
Consumers are absorbing political, health and social information through the form of the documentary, and healthcare professionals would do well to know how that information is being presented. Here are five of the most influential healthcare documentaries released over the last five years.
5. U.S. Health Care: The Good News
This surprisingly positive 2012 documentary—so positive that Healthcare Finance asked journalist T.R. Reid what he was smoking—is shot entirely locally in low-cost, high-quality Grand Junction, Colorado. Mesa County got a lot of attention at the time for its efficient delivery of care (Atul Gawande's seminal 2009 New Yorker piece profiled the town, and President Obama singled it out as a national model); the film asks the question, How can other regions replicate these outcomes? Reid claims it's possible.
You can watch the whole film online. Also available online and worth watching is T.R. Reid's segmented documentary, Sick Around the World, that compares America's healthcare system to other systems across the globe.
4. Money-Driven Medicine
This 2009 documentary from the trenches of the healthcare debate—pre-ACA—takes a close look at the economics on which the industry ran prior to the legislation. The film, inspired by Maggie Mahar’s book Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason Health Care Costs So Much, explores the dichotomy between the cost of U.S. care and the quality of U.S. care.
King of the controversial documentary, Michael Moore, took on the American healthcare system in 2007 with this Cannes selection. The film, which like most of Moore's work makes no bones about being political, grossed almost $25 million and makes a case for universal healthcare. The film focuses heavily on individuals who were denied care and also draws attention to the woeful ranking of American healthcare when compared to other nations—something which hasn't changed much since the film's release.
2. Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare
This 2012 release was an official Sundance selection that year and debuted on CNN in early 2013. The documentary explores the misaligned incentives under a fee-for-service system, and is still a provocative watch at a time when the industry is increasingly shifting towards value-based healthcare under the ACA—and grappling with the implications of that fundamental change.
1. The Waiting Room
The Waiting Room is a five-part ongoing project that tells the story of the day-to-day struggles of a safety net hospital in Oakland, California. Highland is an under-resourced urban public hospital that serves a population made up primarily of Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
The original documentary was released in 2012 to serious accolades—it won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival and was the San Francisco Film Critics Circle's pick for best documentary in 2012.
Now, the Waiting Room Storytelling Project incorporates a social web architecture, a mobile app, an interactive platform in the Highland waiting room and an aggregator website in a community engagement initiative that "aims to improve the patient experience through the collection and sharing of digital content."