Not what the doctor ordered

Writer Bruce Sterling writes a biting commentary about the dysfunctional health care system and how some disruptive technologies and processes might change it. Inspired by a book by Clayton Christensen entitiled Seeing What’s Next, he considers some industries perhaps ripe for disruption.

…I searched for the stupidest, most dysfunctional US industry I could
find. The automotive and energy industries – beset by entrenched
interests, sclerotic management, and stifling oversight – were
tempting. But the worst has to be health care. Health care has every
quality Christensen lists as dangerous: crippling regulation,
overcharged customers, enraged victims with deep grudges, unnecessary
goods and services, and a massive base of underserved wretches. The
remarkably unhealthy US population blows more money on medicine than
any other nation in the world, yet gets sicker anyhow.

You get the picture: he doesn’t like the current health care system. So he thinks of several disruptive steps that might shake things up.

Medical tourism takes off. US patients travel out of
the country for everything short of visits to the emergency room.
Offshore docs offer medical services that are faster, cheaper, and
safer than anything available at home, obviating US doctors, clinics,
pharmacies, insurers, and the federal government – just about everyone.

Alternative medicine gets serious. Health food stores
move out of the feel-good biz and focus on efficacy and marketing.
Vitamin shops partner with massage therapists, acupuncturists,
herbalists, dieticians, and physical trainers. Upscale operations
collaborate with paramedics, nurse practitioners, and midwives.
Together, they pluck the low-hanging fruit – casual doctor visits and
innocuous prescription medicines.

Diagnostix "R" Us. Newfangled clinics offer a galaxy
of cheap, simple diagnostic tests that show people what’s going on in
their own bodies. Counselors dispense information, support,
interpretation, and follow-up advice. Under attack from an effective
populist alternative, the absurdly expensive, often unnecessary
lab-test machine withers.

Oldsters join the extropians. Aging boomers flock to
longevity spas, which dispense radical rejuvenation procedures in the
guise of elder care. The neglected elderly embrace biotech research
considered outré by mainstream medicine: gene therapy, stem cell-driven
organ regeneration, designer drugs that restrict caloric intake.
Abandoned by their best customers, GPs and gerontologists close the
blinds and go home.

A lot of this is tongue-in-cheek, but it’s not out of the question. After all, how else will the system get changed? Will the current stakeholders change it? Nah, it’s working for them. Will Washington change it? Nah, they’re on the take and hopelessly deadlocked about everything. So, self-empowered action might be the only way.