Saturday, June 30, 2012

Technology and Medicine

I have already discussed the big picture themes of the Supreme Court's ruling on Obamacare.  At the end of my last piece I said, "I think a combination of a new spirit of liberty in the American people and also advancing technology, can help to overcome this mess."

For this piece, I am going to discuss technology as it relates to healthcare and medicine.

First, the U.S. health system is already a complete disaster.  It is entrenched with bureaucracy and government at all levels.  Just as there is a military-industrial complex, there is also a healthcare-industrial complex where big insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies send lobbyists to Washington DC (as well as state capitals) to get legislation for protection from competition and for profit.

There are a lot of reasons that prices are so high for medicine.  It goes back at least a hundred years.  Reasons include licensure laws, requiring prescriptions for certain medications, Medicare, Medicaid, HMO Act, state laws requiring insurance companies to include certain coverage, state laws prohibiting the sale of health insurance across state lines, and the tax code that permits employers to deduct premium expenses but does not allow it for individuals.  These are just a few of the major things.

Believe it or not, there are actually some countries with more socialized healthcare than the U.S. which actually have a longer life expectancy.  This may seem like an argument for socialized healthcare, but the problem is that there is no major country with a capitalist healthcare system to compare it to.

While the U.S. life expectancy is quite high and continuing to rise, there are some factors to explain why countries with socialized healthcare might have an even higher life expectancy.  Most importantly, there are other factors that include crime rates and diet that can't be fully blamed on the healthcare system.

One other interesting factor to consider is that socialized healthcare may actually be a benefit at times because it keeps you away from the doctor.  If someone is not sure whether they should see a doctor, a person living in Canada is probably less likely to go.  Even though it is "free", it can take a long time in some places to get in, particularly for specialists.  In the U.S., people are more likely to see a doctor, particularly if they have a small out-of-pocket expense and they can get in quickly.  This is when the typical American doctor starts prescribing medications for every little problem, including things that the patient may not have even gone to the doctor for.  In many cases, it would have been more beneficial for the patient to have never seen a doctor (just my opinion).

In defense of the U.S. system (at least as compared to others), if you are a trauma patient or suffering a massive hearth attack, there is probably no place you would rather be than in a hospital in a major city inside the United States.

So what will happen to medicine now with Obamacare?  My hope is that technology makes it irrelevant over time.  Just as technology has started to make the Post Office less and less relevant with each passing day, we can hope for the same in medicine.

The internet has opened up a new world to people.  There are probably more people taking vitamins and supplements now than ever.  I attribute a large portion of this to the internet.  More people have started to take their health into their own hands.  They research diets that work, vitamins that work, and learn of alternative medicines that are not frequently mentioned by doctors.

I also see other possibilities.  I have heard of the possibility of having cruise ship doctors where there is a cruise ship clinic off the coast in international waters.  This would free the doctors and patients from the massive bureaucracy and legislation in the U.S.  If you need to see a doctor, just hop on a boat.  I suppose this could be a problem for someone living in Kansas.

If the medical industry ever becomes one-tenth of the electronic industry in terms of advancing technology, then the sky is the limit.  Maybe there will be special pills or machines that can cure people of their ailments.  Maybe these things can start making doctors less and less relevant.  I know many people think that the FDA would block this, but the FDA could not stop such technology if a person or company were determined enough.  With today's world, someone could take their machine off-shore.  They could find a country friendly to their invention.  They could market it to Americans via the internet.

I also see more possibility of having Walmart-type clinics where a patient with a sore throat can go get a quick appointment with little expense.  Again, there are a lot of different possibilities here too.

In conclusion, Obamacare is a disaster and the whole healthcare system in the U.S. is mostly a disaster. But with the internet and advancing technology, we can set ourselves free.  We can make the bureaucrats in DC less and less relevant with all of their schemes to control us.

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