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From the archives: A 1949 satirical prediction of medical education and life in 2000

Throughout history, mankind has been making predictions about what the future will hold. While many of us only think a few years ahead, two enterprising interns working in 1949 at STAT, a publication from the Stanford School of Nursing (which no longer exists), daydreamed what life would be like at the start of the new millennium.

A colleague of mine stumbled upon the authors' fun and satiric article (.pdf) not long ago, and I decided to take a moment to compare their predictions with reality. The story is set in the year 2000, where everything is done on screens and the world runs on the latest technologies of a fictitious technology conglomerate named Tele-Tele Inc.

While the story presents a lot of far-fetched and comical ideas of life in 2000, the imagined world of Tele-Tele Inc. actually has a few similarities to modern-day life. In one part of the story, the narrator explores how the School of Medicine has changed:

...I decided to take a look at the old Med School. Surely, this would not be changed by Tele-Med. But to my utter amazement, I found only a large Tele-Transmitter, which I was to learn later, would be used to send Tele-Lectures to the New Tele-Med Students. I was also to learn that these Tele-Lectures could only be received on specially built ceiling screens, designed to put the students in an obviously comfortable position.

Could this have been an early prediction of YouTube and Skype as a way for students to follow lectures?

The article also foretells the impact that advancements in technology would have on patient health care. I spoke about this with article co-author Eldon Ellis, a 90-year-old retired surgeon, who told me:

It's really important to not let the relationship between doctor and patient get lost in all the technology. Unfortunately, the good features of technical changes sometimes get overwhelmed, and the first thing someone gets is a batch of X-rays and lab studies. What we really need to do is look at the patient and talk to the patient.

The full article is worth a read.

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