A fashion faux pas almost prevented me from getting into my dream medical school. Midway through the interview there, the interviewer pointed to my left earlobe and said, “Do you really think we accept men who wear … those things?”
I had no idea what he was talking about at first, but then remembered the gold post I’d forgotten to remove. In a disdainful southern drawl the interviewer let me know how dark a shadow this stylistic error cast on my otherwise favorable application.
I left his office fairly sure I would not be admitted. I also doubted whether I wanted to be admitted to a school that selected physicians on the basis of their jewelry. Really?
Twenty years later, medical schools around the country still struggle to find the right way to decide who should be the physicians of the future, and who should not. Most have evolved past caring about male earrings, but what are the right criteria for admission – what makes a good proto-doctor?
Is participatory medicine poised to become a mass movement? A weekend gathering of patient activists and supporters at a “Partnership with Patients” conference this past weekend offered some important clues about opportunities and obstacles.
The meeting was conceived and created in a matter of weeks by artist and activist Regina Holiday, with a little help from a lot of friends and an offer of a casino-turned-corporate-meeting-center by Cerner Corp. in Kansas City. But this meeting was unusual for reasons other than location. It was not patients protesting the high cost of care or barriers to access or the slow progress of research into their disease. Instead, they were trying to transform the way doctors and others throughout the health care system relate to every patient with every disease.
What was even more unusual, perhaps even unique in the history of medicine, is that they were joined in partnership by health care professionals – doctors, nurses, information technology specialists, medical communicators and others. The focus was on constructing something new, not just complaining about the old.
At a conference for America’s Health Insurance Plans, Gladwell argued that patients or consumers have been unable to be more empowered because doctors, as the intermediary, held the power of knowledge much the same way chauffeurs did for the early days of the automobile and Xerox technicians did in the early days of photocopying. A person was needed to guide and assist the individual to get the job done. At some point, however, the technology became simpler. People began to drive their own cars and make their own photocopies. The mystique of the chauffeur and technician was lifted. Now everyone could drive. Everyone could make photocopies.
Is it possible that for health care and the health care system, which for many people is a system they interact with rarely and in an area (health / illness) where the uncertainty and stakes many be too “high”, that individuals willingly defer the responsibility to someone else? Gladwell hints that might be a possibility:
“A key step in any kind of technological transition is the acceptance of a temporary deficit in performance at the beginning in exchange for something else,” said Gladwell. That something else can eventually include increased convenience and lower cost. He offered a number of examples, including the shift to digital cameras where early pictures were not as good as film and the advent of the digital compression of music, which he contends has made the quality of music worse….