Monday, May 3, 2010

THE DIFFERENCE THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE

A few years ago, a television station doing a story on support groups covered one of our meetings. When the story aired, the reporter introduced it with, “And now, some interesting medical news...” Behind her appeared a logo establishing the story’s category. Was the logo a graphic of two people talking? Certainly not. It was a chest x-ray. After all, how would viewers know this was a medical story if not for the technological clue?

People have come to equate healthcare with equipment, which of course gets more complex—and more expensive—daily. Physicians, who already work 50-60 hours weekly, need to devote even more time to keeping up with this assistive machinery—that is, after they’ve completed their insurance paperwork. It can make one throw up one’s hands.

Whether we’re healthier for this material progress, though, is arguable. Anthropologist Gregory Bateson habitually asked, “Is this a difference that makes a difference?” I’m not plugging the Luddite cause here, only questioning balance. And we’re wildly imbalanced because economic interests relentlessly push high-tech healthcare modalities, while low-tech is a quiet, secluded endeavor, unhawked by ads, public relations firms, or product placement.

Low-tech is just folks in contact with one another. And here’s what’s interesting: generally, the more low-tech is used, the less high-tech is necessary. As oncologist Dr. Elaine Schattner points out in an online essay this week (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elaine-schattner/health-care-reform-doctor_b_558664.html), “…in oncology, a field I know very well, if physicians had the time to examine patients thoroughly—including the lymph nodes, liver and spleen—and did so often enough that they'd be confident in their physical examination skills, they might order fewer CT scans.”

Speaking of “healthcare reform,” this is the kind of difference that will make a difference.

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