Friday, 7 March 2014

The march of progress

Progress, noun, ˈprəʊgrɛs’

1. forward or onward movement towards a destination.

2. development towards an improved or more advanced condition.

You can’t stop it, they say; progress gathers a certain momentum as it carries us inexorably towards change. Of course the adjective ‘progressive’ is a backward motion in political terms, having been appropriated by the left to spin their desire to return to the failed dogma of Marxism as the opposite of the disaster it generally engenders. But nonetheless, progress usually connotes desirable outcomes, as is the case with the latest deployment in technology in healthcare.

The NHS is trialling a new remote diagnostic procedure which if successful could greatly relive the strain on both general practitioners and accident and emergency departments. It turns out that a simple urine test, which can be automatically analysed, offers a fast route to treatment for many common complaints. Funded by a small fee for each use, possibly only five pounds, this could herald a new era of self-sustaining investment in healthcare, allowing twenty-four hour access to reassurance or confirmation for all. My local branch of Tesco has installed one of the machines for the free trial and I decided to give it a go.

The procedure couldn’t be simpler. You pick up a container from the dispensary, nip to the toilets, produce a small urine sample and pop on the sealed lid. Then you insert the container into the machine and you can either wait for the results – about ten minutes – or opt to have them emailed to you. As I’ve been suffering a bit of joint pain in my elbow lately I decided to give it ago, rather than bother the walk-in centre. So I toddled along to Tesco, did the deed and went off to do my shopping. When I deposited the sample the machine had given me a small card, like a car park ticket, so on returning to the machine I fed this card into the slot. Almost instantaneously a printout appeared.

“Welcome and thank you for using this diagnosis machine. Please note that this is not intended to replace your normal health screening services and persistent symptoms should be referred to a qualified medical practitioner.”  Well, duh-er, I thought. The diagnosis followed: “You appear to be suffering from tennis elbow. Recommended self-treatment: soak the elbow in warm water occasionally. Avoid heavy lifting and twisting movements. If symptoms persist after two weeks, see your GP.” I was impressed at this accurate assessment of an ongoing and recurring problem.

Later that evening while thinking how amazing this new technology was and how it would change medical science forever, I began to wonder if this machine could be fooled. So the next time I was in Tesco I picked up a container and took it home with me to carry out a little experiment. I collected a small stool sample from the dog, persuaded my wife and daughter to contribute to the urine content, diluted the whole lot in tap water and gave the mixture a good shake before decanting off a little into the sample bottle. On a whim I masturbated into the bottle for good measure.

Back in Tesco I furtively inserted the sample into the machine, took my ticket and waited impatiently for the result. It took ages. I was here for well over an hour and each time I inserted my ticket it was returned and a message on screen told me the diagnosis was not yet ready. Finally, the ticket was retained and the printout began to roll. It said: “Your tap water is too hard. Get a water softener. Your dog has worms. Get him vitamins. Your daughter is using cocaine. Put her in a rehabilitation clinic. Your wife is pregnant with twin girls. They aren't yours. Get a lawyer."

I was amazed and slightly stunned at these revelations and wondering how I should react to this news,most of which, to be fair, I'd already suspected. But the machine wasn't quite finished. A second page of print appeared, which stated: "...and if you don't stop wanking, your tennis elbow is never going to get better.”

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