Heywood: Health Care Goes Back to the Future

Times are a-changin'.

There are some things I’m never going to understand. That would include Bitcoins, why they never gave the “second rule” of Fight Club, and our current health care system. That last one really baffles me. For instance, why do facilities that provide urgent care have a waiting room? And if I have to take a certain medicine for the rest of my life, why does the bottle it comes in always say “no refills”? It may not be better, but health care sure seemed simpler years ago. I still miss the house calls. Call me old-fashioned, but I won’t respond because that’s not my name.

Now don’t get me wrong. I certainly prefer today’s medical treatment over some of the treatments that were available when I was growing up. Procedures like lobotomies and prescribing cigarettes for asthma actually continued until the ’50s. True story. And today’s physicians are highly trained and love their profession. But if they don’t seem as happy on the golf course as they used to be, there’s a reason. A recent article by a cardiologist gave several reasons. First of all, the mountain of paperwork that is required to be completed under the current health care system. To fill it out takes up to 10 hours of office time a week. That’s equivalent to two rounds of golf. Three, if they stay out of the 19th hole. It also could affect their relationship with their patients, because they can’t spend as much time with them. Then there’s the uncertainty of the health care system itself. Adverse changes could be coming. Nobody really knows. But a number of them are experiencing declining incomes because some insurance companies don’t give them total reimbursement for services provided. Sometimes what a doctor feels are necessary treatments are not even covered. And the patients can’t afford the out-of-pocket charges. What’s really troublesome is some great doctors in the lower-paying specialties, like family medicine, are having to drop out of the profession because they can’t afford to stay with it. That’s why fewer medical students are getting into that area of medicine.

So, what’s the possible future of medical care? Are you ready? House calls. Yep. We’re going back to the future. Because of the advancement in technology, doctors can have all the diagnostic equipment that only used to be in offices and hospitals in the palm of their hand. They can actually make more money because those office expenses will no longer be eating up their profit. Plus, a large segment of the population is aging, and many of them are unable to get around like before. They’re called baby boomers. And more and more of us are becoming a “Silver Alert” waiting to happen.

And what’s the future of a doctor’s office 10 or 15 years from now? By then, many patients will have wearable technology that can give their doctor real-time heath information. From almost anywhere, they’ll be able to monitor things like a patient’s heart rate, blood pressure and sleep patterns. I don’t know if it will monitor alcohol levels, but you still may want to slip it off before heading to Eddie V’s. More good news. Waiting rooms will be phased out because the doctor will have most of your information before you arrive. Of course, this is bad news for you folks that enjoy reading two-year-old copies of People magazine.

Many visits to the doctor won’t have to take place because of video technology. Most minor ailments can be dealt with this way. This will also allow doctors to see more patients, which will alleviate the problem of a future provider shortage. Once again, check out your surroundings before you turn the video on. You don’t want a doctor seeing all those McDonald’s wrappers on your bed or having to explain the hitchhiker in your basement.

Now the big question is how much will all this new medical technology cost the patient? My guess is, it will vary with each doctor, depending on his house payment, car payment, country club dues and the number of trips each year to San Miguel. I’m just hoping that before then, doctors can finally answer the question a number of baby boomers are now asking: When we go to sleep at night, how come our bladders are always set an hour earlier than our alarms?