I’ve been a buried with work and illness for the last couple of weeks. Nothing too serious – just tonsillitis – but it came with enough ancillary symptoms to completely wipe me out for a few days. When I realised it was more than just a cold, I looked up my symptoms on the web, and received some pretty consistent information from a range of sources that told me what I had a recommended treatment.
The easy availability of such detailed information spurred a number of thoughts: notably the impact that technology is having on the way we deal with illness; and disintermediation in the supply of expertise.
On the former point, the dissemination of information is a tiny part of the story. The announcement of a drug treatment for genetic disorders such as muscular distrophy is just the latest evidence of progress in what is probably the fastest-advancing field of scientific understanding. The profits available to the pharmaceutical industry seem to be second only to war as a driver for the funding of research.
On the latter point, I’m fortunate that my fiancée convinced me to go to see a real medical professional, rather than relying on the resources available on the web. While the web advised rest and off-the-shelf medicines, the professional wasted no time in prescribing antibiotics. The democratic web is not always infallible when it comes to delivering expertise.
A side point: my experience of the NHS was very positive. I was in and out of a new, clean, and bright drop-in centre within ten minutes – before the free parking period had even expired. Polly Toynbee and David Walker pointed out in their book ‘Better or Worse’ about the successes and failures of the current Labour government, that people’s general perception of the NHS conflicts greatly with their own personal experience. While most will rave about their own GPs, or treatment in hospital, asked about ‘the state of the NHS’, they will decry its condition. While I don’t doubt there are problems with the NHS, all of the personal experiences I can validate have been immensely positive.