Why Kaci Hickox's rationality is sorely needed

Kaci Hickox rocks.

This composed and completely tough-as-nails Maine nurse has moved me to poetry. If America begins cloning anytime soon, use her. Hickox, as most of you know, told Chris Christie of New Jersey and Paul LePage of Maine--two of the most combative, clangorous governors in the country--to shove it when they demanded she submit to a quarantine after treating Ebola patients in West Africa.

However, Hickox's defiance is accompanied by something we see so rarely in this nation these days: Rationality. She's not sick and has no fever, and in light of her point of view as a trained healthcare professional, she rightly concluded a quarantine would be useless.

"So many states have started enacting these policies that I think are just completely not evidence-based," Hickox said last week.

"Evidence-based" has been around for a while, but it's been a healthcare catchphrase the past decade or so. If only it became contagious.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal--whose wrong-headed healthcare policies I've detailed here in the past--could certainly use a snootful of evidence-based evidence. Last week, he ordered physicians to stay away from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene annual conference in New Orleans if they had treated Ebola patients in Africa. Defiance risked lockdown in their hotel rooms. It's one of many acts of cynical political overreach and downright hostility that stem from Ebola's presence.

Conference organizers replied too politely that that pea-brained edict would keep many important speakers from attending--and presumably, prevent them from the type of brainstorms that could lead to better treatments of diseases like Ebola.

Nevertheless, New Orleans remains greatly concerned about health. Walk into any pharmacy on Canal Street--you know, one of those places that dispenses medicine--and among the first elixirs you will see are super-sized cans of beer. A unique dining experience is a meal where less than a stick of butter is resting on your plate. The death rate from these kinds of practices are about a million times higher than the Ebola death toll in the United States. Literally.

But that is distracting us from a discussion of the evidence-based evidence: Four reported infections to date, a rate of about one in 80 million Americans. One death to date, for a mortality rate of one in 320 million (or if you're only counting U.S. citizens, none). Two nurses who have not only been cured, but were discharged from care looking about a zillion times better than virtually every patient who ever leaves the hospital. One doctor who will probably be discharged in a couple of more weeks. That's been it.

In the time it took you to read the previous paragraph, more people probably died from gunfire in the United States than will ever die from Ebola.

However, a large part of this nation has allowed itself to be gripped in anxiety over the virus, convinced that the globe's most money-soaked healthcare system is as threadbare and chaotic as Africa's and we would therefore all explode. And since the outbreak--if it can even be called that--occurred so close to the mid-term elections, many of our leaders did nothing but capitalize on sowing anxiety.

Why is that? Because we have become a nation of the incurious. And a nation not terribly concerned about the facts allows itself to be easily manipulated, particularly by those looking to exploit that incuriousness. That applies even to the news media, whom did not bother to grill LePage when he archly suggested Hickox might be physically attacked if she left her house. By whom?

Such incuriosity is among the reasons millions of Americans get ridiculously overcharged by their healthcare providers every year, completely buried under opaque bills and not armed with enough information or outrage to tell their providers to cut it out. Don't expect to see that change anytime soon.

It is heartening to see Hickox's story rapidly quieted down when it appeared she was not going to become ill. And not everyone is being snookered into an Ebola panic. A recent poll by the University of Southern California concluded that 70 percent of Californians are either completely unconcerned or not too concerned about Ebola.

The problem is the other 30 percent who remain concerned. That's just enough to drown out the rationality of the rest of the crowd, make them throw up their hands and let the fear and anxiety take over.

And that is among the reasons why pugnacity needs to stop throwing its lot with the clueless and spend a little more time with those who know what they're talking about. As Kaci Hickox showed, it can get results. - Ron (@FierceHealth)