In one of his gag appearances, this one as a 2000-year old man, Mel Brooks was asked to name the greatest invention he had witnessed in his long life. “Saran wrap,” he shot back. A useful product, surely, but if environmentalists had the power they now have, unlikely to have emerged from the lab into lunch boxes. And if the candle lobby were as powerful as the one that forced the repeal of Britain’s candle tax in 1831, Joel Spira, who died last week, might never have become the successful entrepreneur-founder of Lutron Electronics, the company built around his first invention, the dimmer switch. No longer did hostesses have to rely on candles for the soft lighting appropriate to the day when dinner parties were formal affairs at which diners spoke with one another -- this being the time before checking one’s e-mails and Facebook pages became standard activities at dinners, where people now gather to dine alone.
We have these conveniences because they were developed before powerful affected groups found ways to hold back the tide of change. As Texas doctors, pledged to do their all for their patients, have done by making telehealthcare illegal. Opponents of Uber’s urban transport revolution, masters of the art of stifling change and of protecting an obsolete business method threatened by disruption, have nothing on the healing profession. At least not the doctor/believers in Texas’ free-market, red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism. The Texas Medical Board has decided it’s a bad idea for the not-very sick -- sore throats, rashes and other minor (although not to the sufferers) ailments to be able to dial-a-doc or nurse instead of showing up at an emergency room or retail clinic, or trying to see a real live doctor during his office hours, which generally coincide with the hours at which they have to be at work. In Texas, doctors must establish a relationship with patients before diagnosing or prescribing for what ails them. Sounds reasonable. But according to the report in the New York Times that relationship cannot be established via telephone, e-mail, electronic text or chat. Like all rules, there will be exceptions: a doctor may still treat patients by phone or video if the patient is at a hospital and a health care provider is there to “assist”. In short, Texas doctors have no intention of competing with a service that is instantly available, at a charge of $40 in cases in which the patient’s employer or insurer doesn’t cover this sort of thing. Teledoc, which employs 700 board-certified physicians specially trained in how to conduct these consultations, claims that health care in Texas has been set back by “more than a decade.” That’s what successful cartels do to impertinent disrupters who threaten their members’ livelihoods.