Monday, April 29, 2013

The pace of change in medicine

As I consider the money we waste and the millions of people in our country without access to the medical care they need, I sometimes feel impatient and frustrated that it has  taken us so long to see the change we need to actually happen. When these moods strike, I have found that a little perspective on the rate of change in medicine over the years often helps me to feel better. 

Sometimes ideas that are obviously correct, and meet stated needs still take forever to be adopted, and medical history documents that progress is usually measured by decades. Consider that it has been less than 400 years since the English physician William Harvey published his study suggesting that it was the heart, acting as a pump, that was responsible for the movement of blood throughout the body. The acceptance of this "radical theory" by the medical establishment of the day was very slow in coming, and almost 200 years had to pass before Harvey's revolutionary understanding was fully substantiated and accepted by the doctors of that time.

When the Scottish naval surgeon James Lind published his findings that citrus fruit cured scurvy in 1754, it took more than 40 years for the Navy to include lemon juice in the sailor's diet.

In our modern era, the number of medical "firsts" that have changed the practice of medicine, and improved patient health and wellness has dwarfed all of those in previous recorded history, and the promise of what can be done has never been greater. What has not changed, however, is innovation in how our society can pay for and provide care so that these benefits are available and sustainable for our citizens of all ages who need them. That is the breakthrough that our generation is called upon to make.