The summer of 2009 has, at long last, come to a close. However, the fiery rhetoric of partisan interests in the on-going debate over healthcare reform shows no sign of cooling down. The current drama over the provision of healthcare is not a new or original topic in the political discourse of the United States.
In the summer of 1793, Philadelphia was scorched by a yellow fever epidemic. At the time, the city was the most populous urban center in America as well as the seat of the new nation’s capital. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and arguably Philadelphia’s most prominent physician, advised those who could to flee the city. A sizeable portion of the population, along with members of Congress, President Washington and his Cabinet, abandoned the city.
As such, the yellow fever plague was not just a local disaster, but the first national healthcare crisis.
Charles Brockden Brown, in Arthur Mervyn , Or Memoirs of the Year 1793, wrote:
“The Evils of pestilence by which this city has lately been afflicted will probably form an era in its history. The schemes of reformation and improvement to which they will give birth, or, if no efforts of human wisdom can avail to avert the periodical visitations of this calamity, the change in manners and population which they will produce, will be in the highest degree, memorable. They have already supplied new and copious materials for reflection to the physician and political economist. They have not been less fertile of instruction to the moral observer, to whom they has furnished new displays of the influence of human passions and motives.”
A little more than a couple centuries later finds the body politic still arguing over the cost and delivery of preventative care to its citizens. Healthcare providers almost unanimously agree that some type of reform must occur to the current system, as continuing to conduct business as usual is rapidly becoming unsustainable.
More than likely, bi-partisan bickering and backbiting will continue on the topic of reform; however, one subject that all parties agree on is the necessity for a greater presence of health IT in the delivery of care. Although radiology has been a leader in medical specialty computerization, oncology and cardiology are making great strides at delivering world class information systems to their practitioners. IT alone will not solve the overall healthcare crisis, but it does offer a tool that can lower costs and deliver a better quality of care.