I have been an interested reader of financial information for the the past 40 years. My uncle was an avid stock market investor when I was a kid and he got me interested in reading the Value Line investment survey. I still read it and base some of my decisions on it. Over the years I have had some degree of success in investing, but it hasn't all been good. One of my greatest successes was a defensive maneuver that resulted in me not losing anything during the stock market crash of 2008. I have been a subscriber at one time or another to most of the significant investment magazines and newspapers in the United States.
It has been interesting to observe what has happened to what has come to be known as the financial services industry over my investing career because it has implications for the increasing business control over medicine. I have already alluded to many on these implications on this blog including treating knowledge workers like production workers and creating an unhealthy work environment that results in a lack of empathy for the patients being treated. But there are even larger implications. Financial services industry friendly legislation has probably been the single largest contributor to the idea that the privacy of individuals is relative to the advantages gained by establishing credit reporting. Credit reporting agencies were born out of the idea that data could be collected under a Social Security Number and released to any financial institution without the consent of the person behind that SSN. That single idea violated a previous promise by Congress that SSNs would not be used as any type of national identifier and was single handedly responsible for creating a multi-billion dollar industry that basically buys and sells credit information and the identity theft industry - both the criminal side and the services to protect people from the criminals. It is much harder to be an identity thief in a world that does not have credit information centralized on a SSN.
The driving force behind businesses everywhere is to create leverage that results in people needing to buy a product or service and make it so they can't get it anywhere else. We hear a lot about competition and its importance in capitalism, but there is plenty of evidence that capitalism is not only lacking but that measures are often in place to severely restrict it. It results in an industry that is set up to optimize gain from consumers while keeping them all at risk. As an example, one of the "low risk" strategies for investing with some of these companies is to investment in index funds. As retirement nears, the recommendation can be to put funds into an annuity or with an advisor who can determine withdrawal rates, reallocation, and future investment decisions. In many cases the retiree is charged up to 1% for that service on top of whatever service charges and transaction fees are associated with the funds that are invested in. There is always the disclaimer that there is no guarantee of income from the account and this is compounded by the fact that interest on cash and money market funds is at an all time low. Very few investors can fund their retirement by interest on so-called safe investments and in the last decade we have witnessed the first losses on money market funds. All things considered, regulation at all levels seems like it is clearly set up to favor the financial services industry. They have a license to warn you that you can lose money even though you may be paying them to protect it - and that's OK. In some extreme examples, investment banks have recommended purchases to customer that they were actively betting against.
I don't know how many people can see the trend, but it is pretty obvious to me. As medical information gets more like financial information - it moves farther away from any reality basis and it becomes a vehicle for manipulation. The whole point of collecting data from a medical and scientific standpoint is to look at underlying meaning specifically implications for health care. The best example is lab data. If I look at a patient's CBC with differential count and chemistry profile, I have about 40 data points, any one of which could have significant health implications for the care of that individual. If I look at various quality markers and screening scores that are being collected for business purposes that data varies from questionable to clearly invalid and yet physicians are being held "accountable" for what is essentially business quality data. In other words, data that has no scientific basis and can be manipulated for a specific result. The usual intent is to maximize business profits and make it seem like the business is much more critical to the provision of health care than the health professionals it hires. As absurd as that last sentence looks, it is without a doubt one of the goals of most health care businesses.
Business information collected and manipulated for the sake of furthering business interests in the health care industry is no more valid than what happens in the financial services industry. Both types of information have evolved to place the consumer at risk all of the time and give them no clear reason for a making a decision in their own interest. And in both cases, consumers have no choice but to participate. We have a government mandated retirement industry that provides a windfall to financial services. We now have a government mandated health care industry that is set to provide a windfall the large health care and pharmaceutical companies. In both cases it is underwritten by the American consumer who is placed at financial risk all of the time in an economy of stagnant wages and significant unemployment.
George Dawson, MD, DFAPA