Medical doctor and writer Atul Gawande gave the commencement address recently at Stanford's School of Medicine. In it he lays out very precisely and in a nonpartisan way what is wrong with the institution of medical care in the US — why it is both so expensive and so ineffective at delivering quality care uniformly across the board. "Half a century ago, medicine was neither costly nor effective. Since then, however, science has... enumerated and identified... more than 13,600 diagnoses — 13,600 different ways our bodies can fail. And for each one we've discovered beneficial remedies... But those remedies now include more than six thousand drugs and four thousand medical and surgical procedures. Our job in medicine is to make sure that all of this capability is deployed, town by town, in the right way at the right time, without harm or waste of resources, for every person alive. And we're struggling. There is no industry in the world with 13,600 different service lines to deliver. ... And then there is the frightening federal debt we will face. By 2025, we will owe more money than our economy produces. One side says war spending is the problem, the other says it's the economic bailout plan. But take both away and you've made almost no difference. Our deficit problem — far and away — is the soaring and seemingly unstoppable cost of health care. ... Like politics, all medicine is local. Medicine requires the successful function of systems — of people and of technologies. Among our most profound difficulties is making them work together. If I want to give my patients the best care possible, not only must I do a good job, but a whole collection of diverse components must somehow mesh effectively. ... This will take science. It will take art. It will take innovation. It will take ambition. And it will take humility. But the fantastic thing is: This is what you get to do."
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