Thin ice

How long can an industry built on ignorance and deception continue its practices in the new Information Age?

I don’t think it can for long. I talk to hospital administrators who believe that their source of competition is the hospital across town, battling for the same patients. I speak to my colleagues, the cardiologists, who believe that the current model is sustainable—take every willing body to the catheterization laboratory or operating room for heart procedures, the revenue-generating engine of income and expanding heart programs.

I speak to primary care physicians, who are dumbfounded and perplexed and have no idea which way things are going. They are trapped in a peculiar position: most have signed contracts and are employees of the hospital. They are legally bound to support the cardiologists who take anybody possible to the catheterization laboratory or direct patients to other profit-making procedures.

Much of this system depends on the willingness of the participant, meaning you and the health care seeking public. What happens when the truth comes out and disseminates widely through the thinking populace? What happens to hospitals and physicians and the vast structures they’ve built when the bottom drops out for 50% of their “market?

The proverbial cow manure will hit the fan. Upheavals in the medical industry will rival the changes that the automobile or telephone brought early in the last century. Cardiologists, immense hospital heart programs, and the vast economic infrastructure they spawned will go the way of stage coach manufacturers and the telegraph.

What form will the broad exposure of detailed information in health take? I’m not sure, but it will certainly come. The collaborative efforts that created the Linux operating system and have challenged the monopoly of Microsoft Windows, or the emergence of the extraordinary Wikipedia as a repository of human knowledge that dwarfs the venerated Encylopedia Brittanica, will eventually overtake the American medical system, the heart disease industry in particular.

If you base your future on the welfare of your local hospital or the manufacturers of stents, operating room equipment for heart bypass, or similar industries, watch out. The ice is thin. And as the spring warms the air around you, it gets thinner.

The Track Your Plaque program is our first step in broadcasting the message of self-empowerment in heart health care and an attempt to wrestle control away from the profit-seeking forces that dominate. As we grow, we not only hope to broadcast the message more widely, but expand the message to other areas of health. I predict that the collaborative, let’s-all-pitch-in-and-help spirit of the Information Age, “version 2.0,” will spark the change.