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Philip Musgrove '62
Philip Musgrove '62

Philip Musgrove '62 on NPR: Threatening a Life to Save Another


Philip Musgrove ’62 never thought he’d have to threaten one person’s life to save another.


But that’s exactly what happened the day he found a workman in the throes of what seemed to be a heart attack, Musgrove told NPR during its August 21 “Morning Edition” broadcast. Musgrove, a health economist and editor at the journal Health Affairs, drove the man to the emergency room and presented him to the receptionist—who, instead of admitting him immediately, fired off a barrage of administrative questions: What was his name? Social Security number? Did he have health insurance?


Afraid that the workman would die during this fruitless exchange, Musgrove exploded: “Lady, if you let him die, you’re going to be the second person to die in this emergency room this afternoon!” The threat worked; the workman’s life was saved, and several days later, when he called Musgrove to thank him, he explained that the problem hadn’t been a heart attack, but ripped stitches from recent lung surgery filling his lungs with fluid.


Musgrove was left wondering how such an incident was even possible, how a well-regarded academic hospital hadn’t educated its receptionist in what was considered an emergency. “Behind that hospital was a health care system without an effective, electronic way to locate records of a person’s medical facts,” he told NPR.


Musgrove relayed a longer version of this story in an essay for the “Narrative Matters” section of Health Affairs, where he concluded that a proper health care system would include two key elements: universal health coverage and electronic health cards that record and identify crucial medical information.


To hear Philip Musgrove on NPR, go to


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