“I’m getting a snake, and I’m going to clear this drain,” I yelled to my wife, as my shower slowly turned into a bath. I’d already gone the Draino route a few days earlier to no avail.
“You are not getting a snake,” she shot back. “You’re going to destroy the pipes or something. Call the plumber.”
Reflecting on the $375 bill we’d gotten the last time he graced us with his presence, I replied inaudibly, “No way. Home Depot, here I come.”
And there I went. After loitering in front of the snakes for a while, one of the employees took pity on me and approached. After answering a whole bunch of questions, he finally uttered with exasperation, “Really, it’s not that complicated.”
“Ok,” I thought. “I get the hint.”
$20 later I was home with the snake and a bit more curiosity to satisfy before I hit the drain. Unfortunately, the peel-back instructions must have melted away at some point during storage or transport, so I took my thirst for knowledge to the Internet, which rarely fails us.
And it didn’t in this case, as I quickly found a YouTube video taking me step by step through the process. “This is just amazing,” I thought, reflecting on how the Internet has changed our lives. “I can find out just about anything in a few seconds.”
Though I probably should have waited until my wife came home, I took our two monkeys (Tyler and Parker) into the bathroom with the snake. “Do you want to help Daddy?”
With the two climbing on me and fighting over who got to play with the screwdriver (sorry Marie, I did let them hold it), I got the drain cover off, pushed the snake down and turned the drum. Within seconds, it was cleared. I’d saved a few hundred bucks with a little courage and a little tool, but the most important element in my recipe for victory was the knowledge I’d gotten online.
I don’t think people who came of age after the Internet was born can understand what things were like before, not to mention without smart phones and GPS. The idea of stopping one’s car to use a public payphone (germs!) is inconceivable today. And if you’ve had to use one recently, I suspect you’ve gotten a few suspicious looks.
But the deeper lesson I took away from my experience is that knowledge really is power. Knowledge empowers and frees, while the sequestration of knowledge is the withholding of power, or the retention of power by whoever is retaining the knowledge. Do you think my plumber is happy about the power shift I’d just taken advantage of?
And it was not a far leap from this type of transparency to that area which is often the least transparent of all — our health information. Though it is ours, and we all know it, it still feels like we are asking for a big favor (and we had better ask nicely if the request is to be considered) from our doctors or hospitals. “You know, there’s going to be a charge for that,” we hear with a tone of disapproval.
Certainly policymakers seem to get this, as there’s a huge push for patient empowerment at the highest levels of government and in the Meaningful Use committees. To be honest, I didn’t “get” this for a while. Being relatively healthy, I never understood the deep desire for my records, because I didn’t really need them. But as the aforementioned example shows, it is when need is combined with access that the real magic happens. I cannot imagine being in a position of needing my medical records, needing true transparency and communication, and not being able to get it. It must be terrible.
So let us as an industry continue the access and transparency model best exemplified by the Internet (of course, with the appropriate privacy and security measures). Let us give folks their records so they can take a more proactive role in the maintenance of their health, and let us not be afraid that they will be overwhelmed or frightened by knowledge they cannot understand. For when they get the data, it is the same aforementioned access to information that will make it comprehensible. If they are confused or frightened, they might even find a YouTube video that explains everything.