Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Self-Serve Health Care

I think we have enough technological know-how to pull it off. Why don't we have kiosks in emergency room waiting areas, in pharmacies, and in Wal-Marts, where we can get our own triage diagnostics on basic issues?

Imagine you're a 45-year old single man, laying in bed at 1am, and your chest is hurting. You've never had chest pains; they're not painful, just uncomfortable and worrisome. You don't immediately exhibit other symptoms of a heart-attack, like sweating, or tingling in the fingers, but the more you lay there wondering if you might be having a heart-attack, the more you talk yourself into sweating, and feeling tingling down your left arm.

Do you call an ambulance, and incur a $1200 bill for maybe nothing? Do you drive yourself to the E.R., wait in their lobby for 45 minutes, finally get checked in, wait another 4 hours while it seems no one is doing much to/for you, and then finally leave after being told you're fine, it's just a pinched nerve in your spine, and paying another $200 deductible on your insurance, followed by a miserable day at work from lack of sleep?

Or do you keep lying in bed, wondering, until you actually do have a heart attack and die?

We have technology. This is fixable.

The E.R. waiting room should have kiosks and monitoring equipment that has clear instructions for clamping on a sensor or three, that checks whatever needs to be checked to give basic indications of your health: blood pressure, heart rate, EKG readings, oxygen level in your blood, chemical indicators in a mouth-swab or even a finger-prick. There should be a safe "x-ray" machine for checking for bone breaks, for when your 13-year old kid falls and then complains about his arm hurting worse than ever before, but you think he's just being a drama-queen.

Yes, I realize this technology does not exist, at least cheaply and safely, Today. But it's just a technological issue. It can exist Tomorrow.

And that would improve the health of many, and save billions of dollars in medical costs. If the kiosk indicates a problem, then you check into the E.R. If not, you go home, having spent a few dollars on gas, and maybe $5 (to cover sensors, pin-prickers, etc) on the kiosk session. The $5 will prevent abuse of the system, but is low enough to allow all but the poorest to get immediate feedback on their health concerns.

I believe it can be done. I believe it could be done by private individuals who have cross-over knowledge in both medicine and electronics/chemical technologies, or by the medical industry itself, or as a last resort, by government, serving in its role of protecting the general welfare of the populace. I think it hasn't been done, mostly because of inertia. But what we have now, and have used for decades, is no longer working. It's time to put technology to work for us.


Chyntt said...

This is a start:

It's a list of 7 or 8 gadgets shown off at last week's TEDMED (Technology, Education, & Design) conference in San Diego. None of them reach the goal of this blog, but they're steps in the right direction.

Sheri said...

This reminds me of the time my son cut his finger and I wasn't sure if he needed stitches. As I headed toward the emergency room, I saw an EMT outside the fire station a block from my house, washing the ambulance. I pulled in and asked for the EMT's opinion. He said he thought it needed stitches and then directed me to an immediate care center instead of the emergency room. Longer drive, but it saved me some money.

I can't afford an unnecessary emergency room visit either, but I don't want to die for trying to save a few bucks. You're right; we need a way to know what's necessary and what isn't during what may or may not be an emergency.