Sometimes you come across a chart that blows your mind and causes you to step back and reconsider your perspective. That’s what happened to me when I saw this chart shared by Sandeep Plum MD. The chart shows every major technological innovation in the last 150 years and how they have changed the way we work. More specifically, I think it shows how technology has improved the output we’re able to create.
This chart is pretty astonishing to consider. I’d like to dig into the data some more, but no doubt the concept of technology allowing us to produce more is something we’ve all experienced. The amount of leisure time we have compared to farmers even 150 years ago is astonishing to consider.
The problem in healthcare is that many people will wonder why healthcare hasn’t seen the same increase in output. The reality is that we have seen an improvement. The challenge in healthcare is the care we provide has become much more complex and the regulations around that care have become more complex as well. So, the increased output doesn’t feel the same because of these added complexities.
When thinking about healthcare complexity I always like to think about the country doctor back in the day that had the famous black bag and would visit you in your home. What diagnostic tools did he have? Not very much. What treatment options were available to him? Not very many (and a lot of them were very questionable). Compare that to today’s healthcare which has extremely sophisticated diagnostic tools and treatment options. Much of our increased output goes into navigating these tools and options.
The same is true for the increased regulation and reimbursement requirements. How did the country doc handle documentation and reimbursement? He might have written a few notes on a sheet of paper. Underscore the might. The country doc didn’t have to worry about insurance requirements, prior authorizations, CPT codes, or other complexities that make medical billing so time-consuming. He just asked the patient if they could pay. Sometimes that meant he was taking a pig home with him as payment, but he didn’t have to worry about insurance claims denials or sending out patient bills.
This is why I think so many doctors are frustrated by technology. The technology has improved their output, but in many ways that improved output has just been pushed to satisfy bureaucratic requirements as opposed to improving care and making the doctor more efficient.
The good news is that the pace of technological change will continue. It’s not too hard to see the day when a doctor goes into an exam room and the documentation that’s required for reimbursement and continuity of care just happens automatically. We’re not there yet, but the technology to make that a reality is. The only question is whether we can stem the increase in regulations that are eating away all that increased output that technology provides.