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Inertia, It’s Not Just for Physicists Anymore

14 Jul

The following comes from the Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report:

“A USA Today/Gallup Poll found that ‘most Americans say it’s important to overhaul health care this year,’ but ‘they are less enthusiastic about some of the proposals to pay for it,’ USA Today reports. ‘And while a majority say controlling costs should be the legislation’s top goal, more than nine in 10 oppose limits on getting whatever tests or treatments they and their doctors think are necessary.’ But some good news for President Obama: ‘A third of those surveyed say they trust him and congressional Democrats most when it comes to changing health care, compared with 10% who choose congressional Republicans. Another 45% trust doctors and hospitals the most.’

Whoa. Hold On. Wait a minute. More Americans trust doctors and hospitals to reform the health care system than government? On its face perhaps that’s not a surprise as we in this country tend to be rather distrustful of government. But we’d do well to remember Newton’s First Law of Motion, which more or less states that “An object in motion will remain in motion unless it is acted upon by an outside force.” Notice that an outside force is required to alter the motion of the object in question. The law does not state “An object in motion will remain in motion until the object decides to stop, slow down, reverse course, or change direction.” Yet that is precisely what a sizable proportion of folks in this country seem to believe by trusting doctors and hospitals to fix our broken system. It gives a whole new meaning to the saying “Physician heal thyself.”

If doctors and hospitals were motivated to improve the health care system–to increase access to care, to improve the quality of care, and to reduce the rapid escalation of health care spending–don’t you think they would have already begun to do so? Inertia isn’t just for physicists anymore. It applies to social entities, economic forces, and business enterprises as well. But in this case it is better stated as “Every system is perfectly designed to produce precisely what it produces.” That is, until something outside of the system takes it upon itself to act upon the system, current trends will continue unchanged and we will get precisely what we have always gotten. Government may not need to be the external actor (although I happen to believe it should be in this case), it could be big business or the American people, but the essential thing is that the actor be external to the system which it intends to reform.

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