Well, it’s likely not the bubonic plague or anything like that.  It might feel like it, of course, but it isn’t.

Really, I think I have the common cold.  In my 47 years of experience as a human, the symptoms I have seem to match up with that scenario.  But I have one other concern.  What if it is the H1N1 Flu?  The dreaded Swine Flu.  The disease that, since I am an avid consumer of the newspaper and broadcast media, I have learned could not only kill me but also infect and kill all of the people I care about around me!  How could I take a chance like that?

Well, the answer to the immediate problem is that I’m likely going to miss a day of work today, or at least the interacting-with-the-public part of it.  But this gets me thinking about a couple of other issues here.

The first issue is one of the current state of the news media.  Some stories are widely covered, others are hidden.  The current trend in broadcast news reporting is to report things in the most sensational terms possible.  Every weather event is potentially the most dangerous weather ever.  Every political event will change the way we live as a society, either for the good or the bad, depending upon one’s thoughts on the particular issue.  The media regularly uses terms like “war” and “earthquake” and “disaster” and “terrorism” to describe events that don’t even remotely resemble the true meanings of those words.  So, if there is even the remote possibility that my cold is actually an epidemic strain of the flu, shouldn’t I treat it as if I had the plague?  But who do I ask?

That brings me to my second point.  It would be nice to be able to ask a medical professional what I have, just to be sure.  Easier said than done, of course, since I don’t have a regular relationship with a doctor.  That is just because I don’t need one that often right now.  We can also blame it on being self-employed, COBRA running out from the last employer, pre-existing conditions, and so on.  But most of that can wait for another day.

The question at hand goes like this:  Sometimes, you want to sit down for dinner at a nice restaurant and take the time to eat it there and talk about it afterward.  Sometimes you just need to get a burger at the drive-thru because you didn’t bring lunch and you expect that this will be your only opportunity to grab a bite all afternoon.  In other words, sometimes less service for a lesser fee is what is required to get the job done.

In the same way, sometimes I need to see the doctor, go over what is wrong with me, endure some tests to determine the extent of the problem, compare this to past medical records, and so on.  For this service, I expect to make an appointment well ahead of time and pay the going rate for half an hour or an hour  of the doctor’s office time.  Sometimes, though, what I really need is five minutes or less with the nurse or the physicians assistant to see whether I have a common cold, or the swine flu, or something that really requires the previously mentioned full-service visit.

It’s not really the huge monetary discount I’m looking for here, either.  Sometimes I need full service.  But sometimes I really wish that there were a place I could go and get a just a dollop of health care that I need, for a question that can likely be answered relatively quickly by a trained professional in a few minutes.  Yes, some things require the full visit, but somethings could be treated much more efficiently.  For lack of a better term, and with apologies to the burger chain, it could be the “McDonalds” of health care.  Quality product, to be sure.  But also fast and with a limited menu and efficiency of scale.

I have visited such a place a few times.  For a while there were places set up in drugstores around the area.  They could fix easy problems there, or refer you to another nearby facility for deeper issues.  I’ve lost track of where any of them are or even if they exist anymore.  But I really wonder why such choices are not more widespread.

This is the kind of thing I would like to see for reducing the costs of health care.  Having portable or electronic health care records would facilitate this.  Getting people just enough of the care they need, without providing too much, would go a long way toward cutting costs, and avoiding the high-cost emergency room.  When we talk about health care reform, this is the kind of thing we need to be discussing.