A time-driven system afraid of death

Author: Saidas M. Ranade ++

I had an opportunity recently to spend almost six hours at the famed MD Anderson Cancer Research center in Houston, Texas while accompanying a friend of mine for some tests. As soon as we arrived at the facility there was an option for valet parking. Cars were lined up and there was a gentlemen yelling for people to move. The attendants were rushing so they could park quicker and be efficient. The scene reminded me of the red carpet welcomes I have seen on TV. The patients and caregivers seem to be mostly older white families interspersed with some Middle-Easterners, South Americans and a few minorities. It costs $15 to valet park. I got the sense that treating cancer is a big business.

Once inside the facility, my friend’s dad and I took her for her first appointment. While the tests were being performed, I decided to go to the downstairs café.

At the cafe the items were not raw and fresh but pre-packaged. There was no one cooking. There was nothing alive. It was all controlled. They served cold sandwiches and bottled drinks. There was one person behind the counter and she said the same thing to everyone “What can I get you?” Her tone was not unpleasant but very mechanical. Efficiency experts have applied the same principles they apply for mass production to these facilities. The only problem is they forgot what makes us human.

The Smith/Taylor model seeks to improve efficiency by compartmentalizing work into controllable chunks and in their model some workers are instructed to perform only certain repetitive mechanical steps. Large corporations have exploited this same model to displace many workers with automated systems. This division of labor is not aligned with nature. It is like the roots and the leaves of a tree being run by two separate systems with very limited knowledge of one another. I did not venture to ask the MD Anderson administrators for a copy of the cashier’s career development plan. If I did I am certain someone would have given me a 1-800 number to call the customer support line for the lowest-cost bidding contractor that runs the café.

The foreboding sense I got was that time is money. The whole operation seemed to be more about preventing death and errors. Their approach seemed to be a cookie-cutter approach. I did not hear much small talk. Probably constrained by HIPAA laws and from fear of being sued the staff were saying what they were told to say. No more no less. I felt as if I was a part of a mass production system in which all responses were pre-determined. Machines and mechanical systems care about time. Love, compassion, humor, laughter are our means for transcending time. Healing accelerates when time disappears. Regretfully, the whole patient care services approach in the United States seems to be all about time and money.

++Author: Saidas M. Ranade is a Houston, Texas based PhD engineer and a standup comedian.

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