by Gene Callahan
As a social theorist, I find it always interesting, and a useful exercise, to try to arrive at a good explanation for some social anomaly. But sometimes I find myself at a loss, and here is such an instance: Why, oh why, when we go to a medical office, do we write the exact same info on three of four different pieces of paper? Why are we even writing on paper? I mean, if there is one thing that computers have unambiguously improved, isn’t it the storage of routine information like this? Why can tiny St. Francis College, where I teach, in about one minute set me up so that I am receiving college e-mails, alerts, and invitations on my iPhone, while a multi-million dollar medical practice has me writing my address on four different pieces of paper?
The ideal: You record your “basic medical profile” (name, dob, address, contact, next-of-kin, insurance, major illnesses, allergies, etc.) on your smart phone once (or upload it from your computer to your smart phone once). Then, when you walk into a medical office and the ask for your information, you say, “To what (e-mail address / web page / phone number) should I send it?” You type that in, push a button, and then ask what special, additional information they need (because they are a podiatrist and want to know about your feet, say). Bing-badda-bing.
So why don’t we see this? Yes, the US medical industry is all foobared, but there still is competition. Hospitals and doctors advertise all the time, so obviously they compete for patients. Why not in this way? Or, again, why is St. Francis College, a small, lightly endowed school in an educational market with all sorts of government interventions, about two decades ahead of any medical institution with which I’ve dealt?