IN A windowless room on a quiet street in Framingham, outside Boston, Rob Goudswaard and his colleagues are trying to unpick the knottiest problem in health care: how to look after an ageing and thus sickening population efficiently. The walls are plastered with photographs of typical patients—here a man who exercises occasionally, there a woman with many chronic ailments. Big sheets of paper chart each patient’s course from the hospital back to a comfortable life at home, with divergent lines showing all the problems that might arise and ways to handle them. To map the many paths to health in this way Mr Goudswaard’s team interviewed a lot of patients and nurses.
But this “war room” does not belong to a hospital. It belongs to Philips, a Dutch electronics company. Mr Goudswaard, the head of innovation for Philips’s home-monitoring business, has no medical training. His speciality is the consumer.
The past 150 years have been a golden age for doctors. In some ways, their job is much as it has been for millennia: they examine patients, diagnose their ailments and try to make them better. Since the mid-19th century, however, they have enjoyed new eminence. The rise of doctors’ associations and medical schools helped separate doctors from quacks. Licensing and prescribing laws enshrined their status. And as understanding, technology and technique evolved, doctors became more effective, able to diagnose consistently, treat effectively and advise on public-health interventions—such as hygiene and vaccination—that actually worked.
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