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July 1973. From page 72 of “The Future Society: Aspects of America in the years 2000″ American Academy of Political and Social Science annual meeting. “Health Challenges of the Future” lecture by George E. Ehrlich.

Brian Altonen‘s insight:

A little more than 40 years ago, George E. Ehrlich gave a lecture at Temple University on July  of 1973 entitled “Health Challenges of the Future”.   This lecture was part of the annual meeting of the American Academy of Political and Social Science devoted to “The Future Society: Aspects of America in the years 2000.”

Then Professor of Medicine at the Temple University School of Medicine, Ehrlich predicted the depersonalization of medicine which the computer might result in.


However, we are falling short of one of his visions about the direction in which the field of medicine was heading due to the invention of the computer.


Ehrlich thought that by 2000 we would be fully engaged in making the best use of the computer and the storage of patient records, thereby create tremendous improvements in people and population health.  He speculated that with the computer, diagnoses could be made more rapidly, lab orders and clinical testing could be automated, with the results generated and then posted in a timely manner, and that we could therefore understand the best options for care we had available to us, all in a very short time.


Ehrlich’s major concern with these technological advancements was the further reduction of the human contribution that could ensue–a reduction of interactions that normally occurred between patients and care givers.


Unfortunately, many of today’s practitioners, allied healthcare givers, and patients agree with Ehrlich’s last statement.


Even more unfortunate however, the failure of the system to more quickly and more effectively make the best use of its technology to provide patients with more health care value for their money.


This latter failure has nothing to do with the technology itself, only with those responsible for the best use of that technology–those responsible for employing it within the health care system with the best long term interests in mind.


George Ehrlich could not foresee the increasing split that has occurred between the rich and poor since the 1970s.   But he would probably agree and be incredibly surprised to see how that, in spite of technological achievements and advancements, the human side of providing care and making care accessible has not changed in more than forty years.


The recent resistance to change and improvements in healthcare, are a repeat of these same events unforeseen by Ehrlich.  The ongoing resistance to change due to financial managers and CFOs of these systems offers little explanation for the tremendous acceptance these companies have for their lack of progress during the past 40 years.


The failure of insurance companies to implement EFFECTIVE, cost savings population health analytics programs into their systems is an example of what Ehrlich refers to with his criticisms.


Conformity is not always to our benefit when it comes to  healthcare.  The attached quality of life and financial benefits of receiving more effective care are opportunities missed due to poor management and the corporations’ resitance to change.


Ref:  George E. Ehrlich, (Publ. in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, Vol. 408, July 1973, pp. 70-82.)

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