Viewpoint: The 'fast food' model of healthcare

Healthcare has evolved from a fine-dining-like model to one that more closely resembles that of fast food; but fast-food medicine doesn't work, Mary Meyer, MD, an emergency physician and former director of emergency management for Oakland, Calif.-based Permanente Medical Group, wrote in an opinion piece posted June 2 on MedPage Today.

For most of history, healthcare followed a fine-dining model with its highly personalized, curated experience. At some point, people became concerned that the fine-dining approach to healthcare was exorbitantly expensive and inequitable. What followed was "an era of countless fixes aimed at achieving the affordability, efficiency, and consistency of a fast-food joint while maintaining the quality of a fine dining establishment: standardized guidelines, outcomes tracking, cost analyses, virtual visits, the electronic medical record, integrated care delivery, specialty centralization, fast tracks for low-acuity patients, value-based medicine, and patient-centric care," Dr. Meyer wrote.

However, these changes saddled emergency departments with the worst of both options: long waits, limited interaction with staff and inconsistent and nonpersonalized experiences. These experiences frustrate both patients and staff; and unlike the restaurant industry, healthcare lacks access to a vast labor pool.

"I have no visionary solutions for how to fix our EDs, or how to right this ship that has listed so badly," Dr. Meyer wrote. "What I do know is that emergency medicine can't be both a high-end restaurant and a fast-food joint. We can't do it all. [...] And it may be that if we start prioritizing what we really care about, we just might wind up with something that everyone can live with."

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