Medicine and the Promise
of the Internet
David A. Westbrock, MD, FACP, FACE
Nothing is so invigorating to the American consciousness as freedom. It is the lifeblood of our nation, as in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address --- "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." It is of great importance, then, that the public pay close attention to how they handle the promise of the Internet, the engine that is driving our long economic boom. Given the great potential for bringing the world's neighbors in closer proximity, it will be of great interest to see how our government deals with the great promise it represents to deliver improved standards of living and of health to princes and paupers, rich and poor, famous and common, alike.
It is limitless with regard to providing information on any subject one can imagine. In terms of our political system, it provides an outlet to the reporter, who may not be able to get the message out through the usual biased media channels. At the same time it allows access to information that may not be otherwise available through those same conventional and often closed sources. From recipes to how to build a nuclear reactor, we have more than entered, we have become immersed in, the information age.
Now comes the Internet to the world of health care. It is certain that a wider audience than ever is now tuning in to the worldwide web to get information on everything from ginkgo to toe fungus. It is altogether fitting that the Internet is an American institution, born of our very special inventive traits. uniquely our own. In the U.S., however, the wide dissemination of medical information, although subject to error, outdated or incomplete data, has the potential to increase the health of our citizens by providing inexpensive and easily accessible preventive health knowledge. There are many content sites to find a doctor, describe Aunt Tilly's personality change, discover the latest treatment for macular degeneration or hair loss. There is even a site one can go to find the average cost of any procedure done in any doctor's office or hospital (despite the American Medical Association's legal action to stop it). Dispensing care, then, where practical and appropriate and ethical can potentially correct one great curse that confronts our system today. Most patients are not able to receive the kind of care once taken for granted, from whom and when they want it. Further, doctors are no longer able to practice the care they learned in training and from experience, unfettered by an insurance clerk or a government bureaucrat.
For many services that do not involve "hands on" by a physician or performance of a procedure, a simple cyberspace transaction can be made directly between doctor and patient. Eventually, with the evolution of technology, long distance diagnosis and evaluation will become a reality. This will inevitably empower patients to take responsibility, both in choosing who provides that care and how much. Because of market driven reductions in costs, they will realistically bear the financial burden to be able to make free choices, without permission either from Uncle Sam, "the Blues" (Blue Cross-Blue Shield), or other third-party insurance carriers.
The socialization of health care, an inevitable result of our current entitlement culture, brought about by the overreaching of politicians in expanding Medicare and indiscriminate programs such as government-funded health insurance to children (SCHIP), represents a snow ball rolling down hill. Socialism is a European invention, brought to the U.S. more than 50 years ago. Free enterprise was made in America, which has enabled the best health care system in history. It may yet be saved by another...the Internet.
Dr. Westbrock is a endocrinologist in Dayton, Ohio. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 2001;6(2):65-66. Copyright©2001, Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).