Laughing Medicine: Hospital of the Future

A large cancer hospital ran into financial difficulties, so the board hired a consultant who was known for cutting corners and who claimed that he could do it without having any negative impact on patient care. The trick, according to the consultant, was to do away with “unnecessary” big expenses like salaries.

How? He would create several complex machines that could take over some of the nursing jobs, like going into the patients’ rooms to check on vital signs. A special machine would be hooked up to each patient and it would convey temperature, blood pressure, and so forth — without any nurses needing to see the person lying in the bed. Periodically a bell would ring in the room to remind the patient to fill out an electronic form that asked how he or she were feeling. Only if there were no answer would a nurse need to go in and check further.

But the consultant’s greatest plan was to create a completely automated radiology department. This was quite important because radiation therapy is a large part of cancer treatment. So with great skill he designed the world’s first staff-less radiology department. Patients would be wheeled to the door by low-paid orderlies and placed on a conveyor belt, which carried them into a large room where the x-ray machine and various other types of equipment were located. With precise measurements and the use of elaborate computers the exact amount of radiation would be given to each patient precisely where it was needed. In fact, the consultant had thought of everything.

He realized that this would be a new experience for patients and thus designed an added feature to assure them that they were safe. Therefore, the last thing the human attendant had to do was to insert a cassette into a player that was coordinated with each step of the procedure. Then a gentle, reassuring voice would explain how each part of the process was designed to work perfectly. The day the new equipment was installed and the first patient rolled into the room, everything worked as planned, that is, until the conveyor belt stopped for a long time just when a patient was directly under the radiation machine. This was also just when the voice on the tape said, “Now lie quietly and still. This new improved system is perfectly safe. Nothing can go wrong . . . go wrong . . . go wrong . . . go wrong . . . go wrong . . . .”

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