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Doctors Are “Sponges?”

I am a doctor. Go ahead, call me what you may. Group me into a neatly, prejudged category: “All you doctors.” Just don’t label me a sponge.

That’s right. Recently in the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Andy Kessler, famous author and former hedge fund manager smart enough to turn $100 million into $1 billion, grouped doctors into a sub-category of the service economy which he labeled as “sponges.” We could have done worse: His other categories included “sloppers” (DMV workers), “slimers” (financial planners), and “thieves” (cable companies).

It seems that doctors — along with cosmetologists, lawyers, and real estate brokers — offend him because of the tests and licenses that we deem necessary:

Sponges are those who earned their jobs by passing a test meant to limit supply. According to this newspaper, 23% of U.S. workers now need a state license. The Series 7 exam is required for stock brokers. Cosmetologists, real estate brokers, doctors and lawyers all need government certification. All this does is legally bar others from doing the same job, so existing workers can charge more and sponge off the rest of us.

His essay goes on to argue the tired notion that technology endangers jobs in the service sector — the toll booth operator argument, again. He likes the creators of stuff: Apple and Google. (Duh.) But in my mind, doctoring is about creating something: We create better and longer lives for our patients. Ask the patient cured of cancer how happy they are that some doctor created his or her treatment plan.

Mr. Kessler still thinks we are vulnerable to technology. His Cornell-logic follows:

Doctors are under fire as well, from computer imaging that looks inside of us and from Computer Aided Diagnosis, which looks for patterns in X-rays to identify breast cancer and other diseases more cheaply and effectively than radiologists do. Other than barbers, no sponges are safe.

Wow. Doctors that read X-rays get some help from a computer, and Mr. Kessler extrapolates that computers might someday practice medicine. And medical certification exams and licenses act as means for doctors “to sponge off the rest of us.” They better check the air vents in that think tank. He must not get out very much. Has he seen what’s happening to his human peers? Let’s just say Americans aren’t consuming less healthcare.

It’s surprising that a man of Mr. Kessler’s intellect wouldn’t know that the paradox of medical technology is that it increases the demand for healthcare far more than it relieves the supply. And that less — not more — young people are pursuing medical careers. He might do well to read some medical blogs.

JMM

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*


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One Response to “Doctors Are “Sponges?””

  1. rett says:

    I think the main thrust of the article isn’t that Americans will consume less healthcare as a result of technology but rather that as technology increases a technician with a 2 year degree from a community college will be able to perform a technology assisted diagnosis as accurately as specialist for 1/18th the cost. An HMO will look at that and say, “Let’s hire 5 more techs and cut 1 doctor and ride the whirlwind of savings.”

    I don’t begrudge medical doctors their high lifestyles, they have earned it in my opinion through hard work and sacrifice but they are indeed “sponges” in that they have intentionally gone through great effort to keep themselves in short supply via admissions policies at medical schools.

    Perhaps you don’t like the term sponge (I can see why you wouldn’t) but based on the articles definition of sponge, doctors are rightly grouped in with their fellow sponges.

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