By Dr. Jim Ferguson

The world is very complicated, and I can see why some folks just surrender or retreat.  I’m proud of my mother who has not given up, and not only lives independently, but does email and even follows her family and friends on Face Book.  It takes courage to be “out there” in the world of cyber space.  I’m still unsure of myself when I post on Face Book.  Recently, Becky was surprised by comments after she posted.  One commenter quipped, “Well, it’s about time!”  Apparently, Becky mistakenly announced our recent nuptials.

My sister-in-law finally converted to a smart phone after I shamed her while repairing the cover of the old flip-phone she was using.  Now, she can not only make phone calls, but she’s able to check her email and text her family.  I admit that I resisted texting, but finally concluded that I had to do so if I wanted to stay in touch with my kids.  These 21st century philosophs are tech and social media savvy.  Now, I’d rather receive a text with a pic than an email or a phone call.  Trust me; texting is wonderful technology, and keeps my family connected across considerable distances.  Oakley’s parents can even keep up with the boy’s activities as pictures pop up on their iPhones throughout the day.

Some might say we’ve become a slave to our technology.  I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of whipping out my iPhone when something pops into my mind.  But, a Google search should not interrupt dinner conversation.  One advantage of the new technology is that I carry around fewer scraps of paper with notes.  Now, when I want to know something I just Google it, and go the reference desk of the world wide web library.  For an inquisitive guy the Net is an irresistible siren’s song.

The biggest problem with all this technology is keeping it working.  My first car was a used Ford Mustang.  In those days boys worked on cars.  I’m no mechanic, but I replaced the water pump on my “rod”, did all the maintenance work, and even adjusted the timing belt and set points on the distributor because there was no electronic ignition in those days.  Have you looked under the hood of a car lately?  There’s no room to spare as in olden days.  We recently bought a hybrid and there is not only a standard engine under the hood, but an electric one as well.  And the battery is in the trunk!  What’s a good ole boy to do?

Recently, my computer’s hard drive began to fail and I was forced to buy a new lap top to write these essays and to interact with those patients who still contact me for advice.

After considering my needs and the options, I selected a new machine and that’s when the fight began.  I have a basic knowledge of how cars work.  But computers are much more mysterious than a car.  Perhaps it’s because computers work on quantum mechanical principles which no one really understands.  None the less, these tools work and are a necessary component of 21st century life.  The problem is that computers and their software applications are complicated and when something goes wrong you need an expert.

Foolishly, I assumed that the anti-virus protection that I purchase through my home internet server would transfer to my new computer automatically as with so many other programs.  It did not and I was almost immediately invaded and overrun by malware.  I needed what the street calls a “geek” – someone to clean up my computer mess.  My anti-virus company fortunately provided Michael.  This computer parson listened to my confession and then took over.

Jessica Tandy won an Oscar for her role in the movie Driving Miss Daisy.  It’s a beautiful story about an elderly southern matron and her trusted black chauffeur.  The haughty Miss Daisy finally comes to grips with her prejudice.  In some respects I felt as out of control as Miss Daisy when Michael took remote control of my computer and drove me around the internet.  I marveled as Michael manipulated my computer to isolate the problems, orchestrate the remedy, and heal my broken machine. When it was all over, I heartily thanked him for the cure.  I suspect my gratitude was comparable to a patient who has been healed by a skilled physician.

Yes, the world is complicated, but I’m not sure our complexity makes us any happier or always better.  Case in point, have you heard of ICD-10?  Well, this government medical coding mandate is coming October 1, 2014, and will cause even more upheaval than Obama-care.  Doctors and hospitals use diagnostic codes for various conditions.  An example is 250.00 for adult type 2 diabetes.  These codes were created decades ago for description of diseases,  but are now used for billing purposes.  The new system will replace ICD-9 and increase the number of disease codes from 17,000 to 155,000 descriptors, and will destroy what is left of our medical system.  The implementation of this system will be very expensive with cost estimates of $30,000 per physician and an extra hour each day to properly code the patient’s care.  Furthermore, coding confusion will delay payments, sometimes for months leading to bankruptcy of the few small office practices that are left.  So, why do we need codes for “drowning associated with your water skis catching fire” or for “suicide by jelly fish invenomenation”?  I’m not making this up, folks.  These are real ICD-10 codes.

It is apparent to me that Barney Fife is now running virtually every area of our government, and we are in trouble.  I happen to believe that medical care is not this complicated, and I believe we need to again embrace “care” of patients rather than following more mandated protocols (metrics) from central command in Washington.  We may have one last chance to reverse the destruction.  We’ll see this November.