The Kennedy-Dodd bill would create an individual mandate requiring you to buy a “qualified” health insurance plan, as defined by the government. If you don’t have “qualified” health insurance for a given month, you will pay a new Federal tax.
Take all the things that are off about US healthcare, ignore them, and heave a corporate subsidy into place as a solution.
Those who keep themselves healthy would be subsidizing premiums for those with risky or unhealthy behaviors
force patients to accept what a bureaucrat deems “proper” healthcare regardless of what the patient deems proper care
I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself how well your country manages this issue, whether you’re happy with the way the case-by-case decision is made, whether it’s going to be the immoral or the distasteful for you and your loved ones.§
“It's important to ask this question, because this is precisely the situation where the Canadian-type health care system -- much touted by reform advocates -- tends to fail Canadians.”Yes, the Canadian government makes one set of decisions. These weight some situations preferentially over others. And then:
“In the United States if someone falls and hits her head and then an hour later is rushed to the emergency room you can bet she will get a STAT CT scan and immediate neurosurgical attention.”This is another set of decisions. Because there’s a word or two missing from this paragraph – this doesn’t apply to all citizens, only to those with “coverage” – a number steadily decreasing at this time. Both of these are two-tier systems. The Canadians just outsource their first tier to USA – works well for everything but emergency medicine.
Daschle wants Americans to host “holiday-season house parties to brainstorm over how best to overhaul the U.S. health-care system,” the WSJ reports.
There is no question that the economic health of this country is directly related to our ability to reform our health-care system
The Health IT Nerd has spies all over Europe, so I got showered with notifications when a new report was released by the EU last week.
These reports are nothing new. Governments need to commission these reports every so often, to make sure that they’re not on track in their programs. And it doesn’t matter which government, it always works the same way. The government announces it wants a report, and invites all and sundry to bid to do it (usually this is called and RFP or something similar). Then the government ranks the bids, and either picks the one it was going to pick anyway, or chooses the cheapest, from the dumbest least informed clown that bothered to respond.
If it was a pre-selected winner, then, surprise: the report spins things how the government wants. Or, if it’s the cheapest respondent, then the report might say anything at all. If it’s sufficiently crap, the government throws it to the wolves (whoops, I mean the relevant industry), and everyone feels better for having canned the crap that the government needed canned anyway.
This happens everywhere in every industry. I think it gets taught in Government 101. But everyone plays the game dutifully, because you never know quite which variant of the game is on until later. Hindsight is 20/20 (or maybe just 20/10 or something).
In spite of that, I’ll bet all the monopoly money I can find in my hovel that this one is being thrown to the wolves. One thing you can be sure of: it’s utter crap. Check the extensive and thorough preparations undertaken to prepare this report:
In November 2007, empirica conducted an online survey of e-health experts from ICT industry, user organisations, public authorities, university and research, SDOs, and consultants. 94 experts responded
94 experts? Wow, that’s thorough. For all we know, 90 of them were French, and the French don’t know anything about anything. Also, it lists OpenEHR as a standards organization. Now while the openEHR guys seem to be trying to do something useful, they ain’t no standards group (actually, I think I'll make a report of my own about them in the future).
If I hadn’t already had turkey for thanksgiving, this report would’ve done nicely for a late consolation prize.
So, let’s see what their extensive research yields in terms of conclusions:
Current situation in e-health standards: Nearly all interviewees agreed that there is a lack of widely used e-health standards.
There’s a lack of widely used e-health standards? Have they not heard of HL7? Or perhaps “widely” has a different meaning in Europe? So maybe the respondents were French after all.
Impacts of current situation: Nearly three quarters of the respondents indicated that within a single health service provider the overall situation is supportive, but the majority found the situation unsupportive for cross-border care provision.
Barriers to adopt common e-health standards in hospitals: Hospital IT managers may first of all find internal process functionality more important than commonly used standards.
Hang on: “waste money on standards”?
Isn’t the whole point of standards that they save money? Well, yes. And no. Rather more no than yes, unfortunately, in the healthcare industry. If everyone adopts standards over the industry as a whole, then they will pay off. But only if everyone does. It’s a two-edged sword.
For vendors, in the absence of standards, they get paid to do the same work again and again – nice safe money. But that sucks. No one enjoys it, and it’s damn hard to hold on to staff as it is without making them do the same thing again and again. For care providers, adopting standards might offer the ability to purchase cheaper software, but it also means behaving in a standard fashion. Where’s the
business ego differentiator in that?
If you look across other industries, and see which ones have rapidly adopted standards, it’s the ones where the adoption of standards has drastically increased the size of the whole pie, so everyone benefits. But in health, the pie is already as big as it can get. So the result of using standards is just to reallocate parts of the pie.
It’s not for lack of trying, but the governments can’t impose proper standards on the industry, because the industry just doesn’t want them across the board. It’d rather adopt them in a piece meal fashion – the patient will pay, one way or another.
And how can healthcare get away with this? Politics. It’s always politics. See, doctors have unbelievable power in society, and they’re tremendously conservative when it comes to how things are done. Sure, that’s got it’s bad side, but hands up anyone who wants to volunteer to be the guinea pig for a new way of doing things. And everyone, even El Presidente or whatever they’re calling themselves this year, eventually everyone is going to be a patient.
Anyhow, back to the report. It seems to me that they demonstrate a complete knowledge of the current state of the industry when they say:
In January 2008, the US Department of Health and Human Services recognised certain interoperability standards for health ICT which federal agencies have to include in procurement specifications for certain fields of health. This could be a step towards mandatory use of a confined number of standards for principal e-health applications. Such a regulation by the US government could have considerable impacts in the EU. In order to prevent unfavourable developments, the EC and the Member States may be well advised to develop a common strategy and roadmap for e-health standards development.
Interoperability: it’s all about the people. And it doesn’t look like there’ll be any change soon.
IT is the great white hope for healthcare, the healthcare administrator’s wet dream: we’ll be able to reduce the cost of this monster using IT and improve service at the same time. And like all fantasies of this type, what you get in the cold light of day just isn’t quite the same – that sensuous young woman turns out to be a withered old hag with a sour disposition (or, for my female readers – if I still have any: that buff young man turns out to be a crotchety old jerk with a hairy back).
One of the principles is easy to grasp. Anywhere between 50% and 80% of healthcare professionals’ time is spent tracking down information so they can provide proper healthcare. That’s right – that doctor who’s getting paid a million smackers a year: he spends most his time finding the right pieces of paper. That's not all - almost all of the preventable deaths that occur relate to missing information one way or another.
So, if you stick all that information on computers, and they can talk to each other, then the information will just be right there, exactly when and where the healthcare professional needs it. Magic! And we could get twice as much work for the same amount of money, and with less “totally negative health outcomes”. So you can see how seductive this idea is – up there with the supermodels. Also, see the Turkey I had for thanksgiving.
Actually, it would be magic if it worked that way, but the real magic is in the innocuous words “they can talk to each other”. In the healthcare IT industry, this is called “interoperability”, and it’s the Holy Grail. It bears startling resemblance to the Holy Grail too. Not only has no one ever seen it, we don’t even know what it actually is.
In order for computers to be able to talk to each other, they need to understand each other in a deep and meaningful way. At least that’s what the experts say.
In order for computers to be able to talk to each other, they need to understand each other in a deep and meaningful way. At least that’s what the experts say.
I’m not so sure. I’m married, and I know that once you understand each other, you no longer need to talk anymore. Yeah, yeah, everyone laughs when I say that, and pities Mrs. Health IT Nerd. And I mean, I understand their pity, because I know me even better than they do, but they’ve missed the point: Mrs. Health IT Nerd and I are never going to understand each other (any of you that are married will know exactly what I mean). So our lives are full of interesting times, and we are forced to keep talking to each other.
So this is what makes interoperability so much fun: we’re never going to understand each other fully, but we have to get along anyway. I think this is one of the craziest things that happens in health IT, that the industry so seriously misunderstands what will enable interoperability, and what the results might be.
Classic interoperability theory says that in order for two computers to talk to each other, you need the following things:
It’s the same requirements for humans to talk together, on any scale, from my two small kids arguing about who gets to be the doctor and who is the patient, to diplomats from two large countries resolving which side of the border their soldiers will get to acquire their need for emergency healthcare on.
Actually, that stack above is incomplete. There’s something else that most interoperability wonks don’t stress, but I can’t stress enough:
Like Mrs Health IT Nerd and I, no one knows how to even agree on what this “context of operations” thing is, how wide and deep it is.
Take a simple case: in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, one of the characters says: “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”, by which he means, only the incompetent will use violence because it doesn’t solve anything.
Well, I have a friend (Yes, I *do* have one), and he’s a wingnut, so he says that this means that competent people would have resorted to violence long before it’s time for the last refuge. While that interpretation is the polar opposite of the one that was intended, the actual words and the grammar are understood the same way. It’s the different background values people use when evaluating the meaning of the phrase that make the difference here. (Which interpretation is correct? It’s not like it matters for this column, but I figure that what happened in Iraq - or any other war - shows the statement is wrong and stupid however you want to read it.)
This is why interoperability is so hard: there are so many layers to understanding. A whole industry exists to define interoperability based on standards that provide meaning for that stack, a whole alphabet soup of them, such as HL7, CEN, ISO, IHTSDO, ASTM, ANSI, WHO, W3C, OASIS, WS-I…. a never-ending profusion of standards bodies. You know what? These standards bodies, these definers of interoperability, they can’t even interoperate amongst themselves, so it’s the proven-blind leading the probably-blind.
These standards are all going to fail. Well, not so much fail (though it might be best if, umm, if we all don’t actually look too closely at them when we say that), as not quite deliver all the things people are demanding from them – just small things, like life, the universe, everything, and also world peace as well. These things won't happen, but there will be some outcomes: life will get better, healthcare will improve. But you know should know by now what happens when healthcare improves: costs go up; so even if these interoperability standards deliver everything anyone dreams of, the outcomes won’t be what they desired in terms of cost-cutting.
Even if the healthcare administrators and those who pay for healthcare (i.e. you!) scale back the expectations of what interoperability can achieve to something reasonable, these standards are not going to deliver, because they’re all based on the expectation that if you solve the technical problems, interoperability will just happen.
It’s people who insist on doing things differently, calling the same thing by different names or vice versa. It’s people, who, given the same patients, the same healthcare problems, and the same computer systems, find completely different ways to achieve roughly the same outcomes. And for all these people – both healthcare professionals, and healthcare informaticians (horrible word!): there’s my way of doing things, and all the wrong ways to do it. There’s even a step beyond that, people for whom there’s my way of doing something, and all the other ways that I am dedicated to destroying. These people are methodological terrorists, and they are attracted to standards. This is part of why the healthcare standards wars are such fun.
So the fundamental problem of interoperability, of getting the information to the right person at the right time, is the first and last steps – getting it out of the first person who has it, and into the other person who needs to understand it in the appropriate context, how it relates to all the other information they have. Compared to these two problems, everything else is just plumbing, though we can’t even get that right. Interoperability is about people, not technologies.
Perhaps the healthcare industry isn’t so stupid to spend below average amounts on IT after all.
However we’re clearly going to spend what we do have on chasing the chimera of getting computers to fully understand healthcare – that is, us. Well, that will never happen.
So I think that we need to start focusing on enabling interoperability without trying to understand each other. See, if we all focus together on trying to achieve something perfectly useless, there’s a reasonable chance that we might actually succeed, especially since we've already achieved one of the desired outcomes – we’ll never understand each other.
National health spending rose a slight 3.9 percent in 2010, as Americans delayed hospital care, doctor’s visits and prescription drug purchases for the second year in a row, the Obama administration reported Monday.
The recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, reined in the growth of health spending as many people lost jobs, income and health insurance, the government said in a report, published in the journal Health Affairs.
There are a couple of takeaways from this news.
First, the reduction in spending on healthcare could mean a welcome, albeit temporary relief to those governments and organizations that pay for healthcare….BUT…no real relief for state and local agencies which provide/finance healthcare for poor people. Recessions, of course, result in greater numbers of people qualifying for government-supported care.
The other point is a reminder that some portion of healthcare services are discretionary. When healthcare spending was growing by 10 percent or more each year in the 1980s, that growth probably wasn’t driven by an increase in the need for services. Likewise the slower growth over the last several years is probably not due to the population getting healthier and needing fewer services. Instead, people moderated their demand for healthcare. They put off diagnostic tests, or did not follow through on treatments or prescriptions. Going in the other direction, hospitals routinely see increases in elective surgeries near the end of a calendar year, as people have already met insurance deductibles, and decide to seek care before those deductibles are reset in the new year.
Is this good news? Not necessarily. To the extent the people put off truly necessary tests and treatments, those delays may cost us more in the long run. To some extent, though, tough economic times force us to be more cautious about discretionary spending, and there may be very little impact on long run health status. There is the old saying that if you get a cold, it will take 7 days to go away, but if you see a doctor you’ll be cured in a week! One important element of effective healthcare reform is to introduce that sense of caution in our population. It is a delicate balance – not wanting to interfere with early testing and early, cost-effective treatment, but also discouraging care that has less impact on long term health.
Prices for medical care services and supplies also stayed roughly on par with general inflation during this last year, which is a change from the decades of the 1980s and 1990s where the medical care component of the consumer price index routinely outstripped regular price increases.
I wouldn’t have to polish my crystal ball very much to predict that spending increases for healthcare will pick up speed as the economy recovers. This remains the single most important issue in our nation’s federal deficit struggles.
When I went into solo practice of internal medicine in 1981, it was very easy to get a doctor to see a Medicare patient. All I had to do was make a phone call. A courteous receptionist answered. If the doctor couldn’t come to the phone right away, I could count on a prompt callback.
Consultants saw patients quickly, and generally called me to discuss their findings and advice. And very often there would also be a letter in the mail: “Thank you for referring this delightful patient to me.”
How things have changed! Now a doctor gets the phone menu, just as the patients do, and it often ends in voice mail. It might be a few days before a staff member calls back—usually with the news that “we are not accepting any new Medicare patients.” At best, my patient might be offered an appointment in several months.
One very fine gentleman, who had recently moved to a rural area, found it easier to fly to Tucson to see me than to get in to see a local internist. That was in 2009. Recently, he has become unable to travel, so I needed to find him a local doctor.
I tried to expedite matters by ordering him an immediate diagnostic test: an abdominal CT scan. I don’t think anyone could argue that it wasn’t indicated under the circumstances. One little problem: I am not enrolled in Medicare and don’t have the proper government-issued number to enter into the computer. A license to practice medicine is not enough. This National Provider Identifier (NPI) is supposed to protect the system against being defrauded. Without that number, the imaging facility could not get paid by Medicare.
“Why not use the radiologist’s number?” I asked. After all, he was the one who would get paid. Nope, a referral was required. How about a self-referral from the patient? Nope, we can’t allow patients to decide what tests they need. “The patient is willing to pay for his own test,” I said. Nope, if he’s on Medicare, they aren’t allowed to take his money.
They gave the patient 24 hours to find a properly enumerated doctor to countersign my order. Fortunately, he found a specialist willing to do so, and assume potential criminal liability for committing “waste, fraud, and abuse” by ordering a “medically unnecessary” study. (Fortunately for the patient, he turned out not to have cancer, but that could be bad news for the doctor.)
So this is the status of retired Americans. They can’t just walk into a facility and request a medical test, and pay for it with their very own money.
A man may be qualified to pilot a 747 across the Pacific, but once he’s on Medicare, he is unfit to make an unsupervised decision about his own medical care.
I did find my patient a doctor. None of the internists within a 150-mile radius who “take Medicare” are willing to take on a new Medicare patient. But through the website of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (www.aapsonline.org), I found a link to the Medicare carrier’s list of opted out physicians. They don’t “take Medicare,” but many are pleased to see older patients, for a reasonable fee. There was one internist on the list, 150 miles from my patient. She has a courteous and helpful assistant who actually answers the phone, and told me the charge for a new patient visit: $300.
Things could be worse—and already are much worse in Canada. The “soul-destroying search for a family doctor” is described in the Globe and Mail on Aug 21. The Ontario government’s program called Health Care Connect manages to link only 60 percent of patients with a doctor—although you might find a concierge doctor for $3,000 a year.
That’s the cost of medicine when it’s “free”—if you can find it at all. If ObamaCare is implemented, all Americans will be in the same boat. And guess who will get thrown overboard first.
Some new data out on Small Area Health Insurance Estimates from the census folks.
They have a tool there you can use to look this up yourself, but what I get is that for children (age 18 and under) in Pennsylania, Allegheny County is tied with Montgomery for the lowest percentage without health insurance at 3.9%. The highest: 10% in Lancaster County. Data is for 2009.
The United Kingdom, where, on average, people live longer than in the U.S., spends only about 9 percent of gross domestic product on medicine, compared with our 18 percent. The British control costs in part by having the will to empower a hard-nosed agency, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, to study treatments and declare some ineffective. Some hope the United States will create a similar agency, but I fear it would be hopelessly politicized and declawed.
My solution: admit we are cost-control wimps, and outsource our treatment evaluation to the U.K. Pass a simple law saying Medicare (and Medicaid) won’t cover treatments considered but not positively appraised by the Britain’s national health institute.
Even better, use clinical evidence evaluations of the British Medical Journal. They’ve classified more than 3,000 treatments as either unknown effectiveness (51 percent), beneficial (11 percent), likely to be beneficial (23 percent), trade-off between benefits and harms (7 percent), unlikely to be beneficial (5 percent) and likely to be ineffective or harmful (3 percent). Let’s at least stop paying for these last two categories of treatments! And to put pressure on doctors to collect evidence, let’s stop paying for “unknown effectiveness” treatments after 10 years of use.
Suppose you went into a grocery store, and found no prices on anything. You ask a clerk how much five pounds of potatoes would be, and he asks you whether you are 65 or older. Youre taken aback, but you tell him you are 64, and he asks whether your income is less than $40,000.00 a year. Startled, you say it is more than that, and then he asks whether you have food insurance. Why would the
price of potatoes depend on the buyers age, income, and insurance status, rather than on the cost of growing, transporting, and stocking the potatoes? That would be absurd.
Yet thats how it is with medical care. I would be unable to find out, for example, the cost of an echocardiogram from the hospital where I did my residency. The price is different for different people. The government instituted this ridiculous situation, in 1965, with Medicare and Medicaid. There is a lot of mythology about these programs, but few people understand them like the physicians who are on the front lines actually seeing the patients. For some of them, it has been a gravy train. They game the system. For others, it has been a disaster to go through medical school and residency, and come out a de facto servant to government programs, but of
course, without benefits or retirement. If you are scrupulously honest, these programs will bankrupt youeven while turning you into Public Enemy #1.
Senators Ron Wyden and Charles Grassley have put forth the Medicare Data Access for Transparency and Accountability Act (the DATA Act) to open a database so that everyone can see how much money Medicare has sent to any physician enrolled in it. Regardless of the cost to provide medical services, the price the taxpayers are forced by the government to pay for other peoples medical care has gone down and down per procedure, per diagnosis, per office visit.
The public wont see that, but it will hear about some isolated cases; for example, an Oregon neurosurgeon who allegedly performed multiple spine surgeries on the same patient, or a Florida physician accused of $3 million dollars in Medicare fraud.
Gaming the system is fraud. But the biggest fraud is the one perpetrated on the working people of this nation who are forced to pay for other peoples medical problems. When Medicare was first instituted, Americans were reassured that it would never cost the taxpayers more than $9 billion a year. It is more like $500 billion a year now.
Patients learn to game the system too. Workers must pay through their taxes for even the most trivial complaint when someone on Medicare makes an appointment for it; say for a cosmetic skin lesion that has been present for 30 years without causing any problem. Working people are also forced to pay for the consequences of other peoples smoking, excess drinking, or risky lifestyle choices. Thats fraud, perpetrated by the government on taxpayers. Its hidden behind political smoke and mirrors.
Amazingly, we managed somehow for 189 years after 1776 without Medicare and Medicaid, and things were getting better and better until Lyndon Johnson came up with a good fraudulent vote-buying scheme, and then a lot of people decided there was money to be made off medical problems with the taxpayers the losers.
So, Wyden and Grassley, open your database. But include a list of all the procedures and diagnoses, and what Medicare and Medicaid actually send the physicians as reimbursement so people can see that physicians who spent years of their life in training while incurring tremendous debtare paid about the same as auto mechanics. And also account for where the rest (about 80%) of the
$500 billion goes.
That would be a good start for medical price transparency. And a good precedent for another database, one detailing just how much value politicians give taxpayers who pay their salaries.
About the Author:
Dr. Tamzin Rosenwasser earned her MD from Washington University in St Louis. She is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Dermatology and has practiced Emergency Medicine and Dermatology. Dr. Rosenwasser served as President of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) in 2007-2008 and is currently on the Board of Directors. She also serves as the chair of the Research Advisory Committee of the Newfoundland Club of America. As a life-long dog lover and trainer, she realizes that her dogs have better access to medical care and more medical privacy than she has, and her veterinarians are paid more than physicians in the United States for exactly the same types of surgery.
I find the sentiments in the quoted passage objectionable for two reasons. First, preventative health care is not ‘everyone’s business’. Individual adults have primary responsibility for their own preventative health care because no-one is better able to exercise that responsibility than they are. Individuals who are persuaded that preventative health care is a collective responsibility could be expected to look increasingly to the various levels of government, non-government organisations, health professionals and practitioners, communities and families – everyone except themselves – to accept responsibility for what they eat, drink and inhale.
Second, the goal of making Australia the healthiest country by 2020 is being put forward as though it is self-evidently desirable collective good that should be pursued by any and every means available to everyone. The goal is not self-evidently desirable. Individual health is not a collective good. And the end does not justify the means that are being proposed to pursue it.
If you delve behind the spin about making Australia the healthiest country by 2020, the underlying goal seems to be to raise average life expectancy in Australia to the highest level in the world by reducing the incidence of chronic disease. What does this entail? It would be hard to object to the goal of enabling individual Australians to reduce their risk of chronic disease. The problem is that the government’s strategy is more about achieving national goals than providing better opportunities for individuals – more about behaviour modification than about ‘enabling’ individuals to reduce their health risks.
The government claims that analysis of ‘the drivers of preventable chronic disease demonstrates that a small number of modifiable risk factors are responsible for the greatest share of the burden’. The behavioural risk factors led by obesity, tobacco and alcohol apparently account for nearly one-third of Australia’s total burden of disease and injury. The chronic conditions for which some of these factors are implicated include heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, depression and oral health problems.
Since these risk factors stem from individual lifestyles it is obviously desirable for individuals to be aware of them. There may be a role for governments in provision of this information. Perhaps governments should also be involved in helping people in various ways to live more healthy lifestyles. It is questionable how far governments should go down this path, but it is difficult to object to modest efforts by governments to improve opportunities for people to live healthier lifestyles.
However, rather than helping people to help themselves the federal government has chosen the path of Skinnerian behaviour modification. It has chosen to drive changes in behaviour through what it describes as the ‘world’s strongest tobacco crackdown’. (This is one instance when I hope the government doesn’t actually mean what it says – some people in Bhutan have apparently been jailed recently for possession of more than small amounts of tobacco products.) The government’s strategy also involves ‘changing the culture of binge drinking’ and ‘tackling obesity’, but in this post I will focus on smoking.
Some of the tactics being used in the tobacco crackdown involve information and persuasion but there is also an element of punishment involved. The tobacco excise has been increased to over $10 for a packet of 30 cigarettes and legislation is proposed to require cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging. It seems to me that this amounts to persecution of smokers and their families. It will reduce the amount of household budgets available to be spent on other products and encourage some to avoid excise by obtaining tobacco from illegal sources.
As a former smoker, I am probably more strongly against smoking than most people who have never smoked. I encourage other people to quit smoking and discourage young people from taking up the habit. But having given up smoking several times, I know how hard this can be. Governments have no basis on which to judge that people are not in their right mind if they consider that the pleasures they might obtain from additional years of life are not worth the pain of giving up smoking.
In my view this question of whether smokers are capable of judging what is in their own best interests is at the crux of the matter. The politicians and bureaucrats who seek to modify the behaviour of smokers may see themselves as enhancing the capability of these people to have lives that they ‘have reason to value’, in accordance with well-being criteria proposed by Amartya Sen. If so, their attitudes highlight a major problem with Sen’s approach. Governments have no business deciding what kinds of lives individuals have reason to value.
Enrolling into a drug rehab program can be the hardest thing to do but it can save a life.
I remember vividly reading about DNA and its mechanisms in James Watson's Double Helix. The unzipping of the two reversed strands interlocked by the strict pairing of nucleotides--adenine to thymine and guanine to cytosine. The complex and choreographed interactions with other molecules leading to the construction of proteins. The systematic beauty at the nucleus of life. It was all engaging enough for me to decide to study Biochemistry at university.
When I finished my degree I worked in international marketing and travelled the world. I was always proud (and grateful!) that English is the most widely spoken language with about 80 percent of the world being able to speak it. But it is not the real lingua franca any more. The most popular language comprises 0s and 1s--the binary language of computers. GB Shaw said America and England were 'separated by the same language,' but the binary language unites the world.
What's more, the two binary languages of DNA nucleotide pairing and computer coding are set dominate the coming decades in a combination of genomics and computer science. David Baltimore said that Biology is today an information science. Indeed, Bioinformatics combines life and computer science so that they are as interlocked as the strands of DNA.
We will see if genomics lives up to its promise, of course. As another scientist, Neils Bohr, said: 'Prediction is difficult, especially about the future.' Even the exquisite DNA translation process sometimes gets it wrong and proteins end up with the wrong amino acids, impairing their function. Indeed the majority of DNA itself is regarded as 'junk', because it seems to have no function. All of this all sounds a bit like computer code and its creation, another systematic human process.
I have been fascinated by interface between man and machine for more than 30 years. Now it seems more alluring than ever.
Last week BBC's Click programme showed (6m 38s) a one year old iPad user confused by a print magazine where she couldn't 'flick' the pages: a sign of the times.
A few years ago there was a kerfuffle in healthcare IT. A study at the Childrens Hospital of Pittsburgh concluded that mortality rates had increased with the implementation of Computerised Physician Order Entry System (CPOE). Despite being rebutted almost immediately after publication, the study gained wide credibility. It was still being quoted without qualification by a prominent academic at a UK healthcare IT conference a couple of years ago.
A former Apple CEO says healthcare missed the PC and Internet revolutions. He loads the blame squarely on the shoulders of reluctant doctors.