Why Is Healthcare Like Watching Black & White TV?

I am amazed at the speed at which most of the world changes.

When I was young, drinking-water was free, and our rotary phone was attached to the kitchen wall.

We used to get two newspapers a day; the Baltimore Morning Sun and the Baltimore Evening Sun. As a result, we knew everything that had happened in the world before ABC, CBS, and NBC televised the evening news at 7 p.m.

Our television set was a piece of furniture the size of a dishwasher. To watch the television we had to adjust the rabbit ears to try to get the picture to stabilize. During storms, sometimes we had to attach a piece of aluminum foil to the antenna to stop the picture from fading. If we wanted to watch one of the other two channels, someone had to walk to the television and turn the selector knob. To be fair, rumor had it that there was also a UHF channel. That channel came with its own non-functioning antenna, but I never met anyone who was able to get the picture clear enough to watch.

Even so, we also watched the news, and when Walter Cronkite went from black and white to color, I knew technology had just about peaked. And then came portable television—television on wheels. Instead of something the size and weight of a chifforobe, televisions were so miniaturized that they could fit on a wheeled cart and could be moved from room to room. Naturally, we did not have to worry about connecting it to the cable outlet because there was no cable.

Next to the portable television, on the end table, was a spiral-bound, paper AAA map with the directions to get me from Baltimore to Vanderbilt in Nashville—stone age GPS.

As an aside, it occurred to me that the practice of healthcare and the practice of law have a lot of similarities—however, people don’t call having a thousand doctors on the bottom of the ocean a good step. The greatest commonality is that nobody wants to engage either a doctor or a lawyer until it’s already too late. I guess though that telling a lawyer that you were thinking of robbing a bank would garner about the same reaction as telling a doctor that you were thinking of taking up smoking.

So, back to the fact that many years ago what we thought of innovation as consisting of tap water, a morning and evening newspaper, color television, and a TV on wheels.

Almost everything has changed since then because of the rate of change of technology.

Almost everything.

I went to the hospital to get an MRI on my knee.  The clerk inserted a three-part carbon firm into her IBM Selectric typewriter and typed my admissions data.  I was instructed to go to the waiting room. A woman dressed like June Cleaver rolled a black and white television into the room and turned on the Get Smart. She told me there was bottled water in the avocado-colored refrigerator and that if I wanted to make a call, the phone was on the wall next to it.

The song from the Archies, “My Heart Went Bang-Shang-A-Lang” was playing on my transistor radio. I reached down and retied my Converse Jack Purcell sneakers. And folded neatly next to me, on the end table, was a copy of this morning’s newspaper and a spiral-bound map from AAA.

The business model of healthcare never left the 70’s.

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