Healthcare From 40 Years Ago…And Feeling Old

When I was at the U2 concert a few weeks ago in St. Louis, I couldn’t help thinking about their music and other things from growing up.  While it was a great concert, it really made me feel old.  Here’s a few of those things which then got me thinking about what healthcare was like 40 years ago.

  • We had record players not digital turntables (or iPad turntable apps).  [I still remember my first 45-single that I bought by Twisted Sister.]
  • I still want to call it a Walkman half the time not an iPod.  And, I think my kids were wondering why I had these big “beat boxes” in the basement that I finally gave away.
  • I actually remember when apartheid in South Africa was more than history and when Nelson Mandela was freed.  I saw him speak when he first came to the US. 
  • When I think of terrorists, I think of the IRA not al Qaeda. 
  • I remember that “the Wall” is not just a song.
  • I remember hyperinflation in Brazil not them as part of the emerging global marketplace. 
  • I remember using my friend’s dad’s car phone and how exciting that was.
  • I remember saving files I programmed in basic to a tape player.  Heck, I even remember having a tape player and recording songs off the radio.
  • I remember wanting a banana seat for my bike as a kid.
  • I remember celebrating the Centennial (200 years of freedom).
  • I remember kids played sports for fun not to become the next Tiger Woods.
  • I remember when China was “the Orient” and not a superpower looking over our shoulder.
  • I remember when people were politically incorrect.
  • I remember when seat belts were optional as were car seats for kids and bike helmets.
  • I even remember owning a black and white TV.

Anyways, I think you get the point.  Of course, I don’t remember what healthcare was like 40 years ago.  For that, I had to do some research. 

I think this YouTube video with Nixon and Kennedy is a good start.  Nixon is talking about spiraling costs and the need for well care.  (Full text of President Nixon’s speech is here.)

In the video, they talk about costs hitting almost $100B that year (while we’re at well over $2.4T per year in the US today).  And, in a quote that sets up well the ongoing technology struggles the industry has had:

Health Information Systems: Each physician, hospital and clinic today is virtually an information island unto itself. Records and billings are not kept on the same basis everywhere, laboratory tests are often needlessly repeated and vital patient data can get lost. All of these problems have been accentuated because our population is so constantly on the move. The technology exists to end this chaos and improve the quality of care. I have therefore asked the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to plan a series of projects to demonstrate the feasibility of developing integrated and uniform systems of health information.  (source)

Does all of this sound familiar?  Scary!

One question I wondered a few months ago is whether we could offer a retrospective plan to people that was lower cost.  What if you stripped out all the “cool” new developments over the past decade, but gave people a safety net healthcare offering that leveraged generics and traditional treatments.  They would have to buy-up to the newer technologies and solutions that were available.  Could that work?  I doubt consumers would tolerate it, but perhaps it could create a reasonable, low cost offering.

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