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Featured DVD Review: Escape Fire

February 25th, 2013

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare - Buy from Amazon

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare is one of many, many documentaries that tackle the subject of the American healthcare system. Does this one present the topic from a different enough angle that those interested in the topic want to check it out? Will it appeal to a wider demographic?

The Movie

The film begins with the story of Wagner "Wag" Dodge, a firefighter who was at the Mann Gulch fire. Where he and his men were trapped by fire and they wouldn't be able to outrace the fire. So he came up with the idea to light another fire at his own feet to create an escape fire, a fire used to burn away the fuel a larger fire would need. This saved his life, but unfortunately, the rest of the men didn't recognize what he was doing and tried to outrun the fire, and nearly all of them died.

This story is used as a jumping point for the filmmakers' look at the American Healthcare system, or as they call it, Disease Manage System. They hammer home the point that since healthcare in the United States is a for profit business, and by law these companies must maximize profits, their incentives are to see as many patients as possible per day. Spending only 15 minutes with a patient is common. Spending as little as an average of 2 minutes with a patient is not unheard of. This has two effects. More patients means more money. But it also means doctors can't spend time getting to the root of health problems and are forced to throw medication and expensive tests to treat symptoms instead of fixing the cause of the problem. Of course, this results in many more visits, which increases the profits for the companies involved, but does little to help the patient in the long run. The economic incentives also push costly medicines and medical procedures, even when these won't help, or might even hurt the patients.

This is something we've been told about time and time again. Escape Fire does set itself apart with a very moving look at the prescription medicine abuse in the military. Of course, since the United States has been at constant war for more than a decade, it makes sense that soldiers would need a lot of help, but this is something that is not often looked at.

A lot of what it talked about in the movie is depressing and frustrating, but there are some hopeful signs and perhaps some simple ideas that can help improve the healthcare system, both in the grand scheme and to the individual patient.

Escape Fire isn't the most cinematic documentary I've seen, but it is certainly a comprehensive and compelling documentary. There a good balance between showing the main problems facing the healthcare system in the United States, and some of the solutions.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary track with the co-directors / co-producers, Susan Fromke and Matthew Heineman. There is an eight-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. There are two four-minute updates on two of the characters featured in the film, Sergeant Yates and Dr. Martin. There are four deleted and extended scenes. Finally, there's a six-minute look at the film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

The Verdict

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare is an excellent documentary that is admittedly in a crowded field, but it talks about an important part of the healthcare debate that is often ignored and it is worth checking out. The DVD has enough extras that is it worth picking up over just renting.

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Filed under: Video Review, Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, Matthew Heineman, Susan Froemke