Medicine is changing quickly. In the context of these changes I hear this question occasionally: ‘What would Osler think?’ What would he think of imaging before examination? How would he feel about medical residents rounding with one eye on the EHR?
It’s an interesting question and one that highlights the fact that we’re a profession preoccupied with our past. We like to quote iconic figures of medical history. Their pictures hang in the lecture halls that shape the youngest minds in medicine. We’re trained from early on to keep pace with the past. We cross-check where we’re headed with where we’ve been.
But I can’t help but wonder if Osler’s perspective on 21st century medicine might be irrelevant. Osler was dependent upon his hands, eyes and ears because he had little else. He lived and prospered within his diagnostic means.
The question of Osler reflects our profession’s endemic insecurity with change. We often invoke figures from our past to validate one way of doing things. We’re afraid to believe that anything other than where we’ve been could ever define us going forward. As medicine becomes more precise expect the argument that medicine was better way back when. Look for lectures with historic quotes illustrating just how misguided we’ve become.
But understand that the heroes we quote were the disruptors of their time. Flexner, Osler, Debakey and others worked to overturn the status quo. They spent little time convincing their peers to move medical thinking back 100 years. I suspect that if William Osler were here he’d push the limits of wireless health, imaging, genomics and self-quantification. He would apply our digital tools as a means of engaging and advancing the interest of the patient. His methods of connection would be unrecognizable to past generations but no less important.
And I suspect that he would see to it that as a profession we were defined less by our tools than by the way we use them.
That’s what Osler would think. I think.
Image via Wikipedia