Health Care in the Age of Jackson

Did anyone come down with swine flu after Coindesk Construct? I did 🙁

As recently as a century ago, the doctor-recommended treatment for influenza was bloodletting. Sick people actually paid money to have their veins cut open. Before the development of medical licensing laws, they would simply go to the local barbershop. Barbers conveniently doubled as surgeons because they had lots of sharp razor blades on hand. The red, white, and blue spinning barber pole represents blood flowing from the veins and arteries.

The field of medicine saw many advances in Europe during the 19th century, thanks to the work of scientists like Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur.
Not in America though. America was all about populism and Jacksonian Democracy. Education was rejected as elitist, and American doctors weren’t gonna let snotty European aristocrats tell them how to treat their patients.

On that note, here are some fun articles from the Journal of the American Medical Association:

  • Yellow Fever should be treated using castor oil laxatives and an enema. (1883)
  • Eclampsia puerperalis can be treated with bloodletting. (1883)
  • Epilepsy should be treated by sawing out a piece of the skull to relieve cranial pressure. (1903)
  • Rheumatism can be treated with bloodletting. (1904)
  • Heart disease and coronary thrombosis should both be treated with bloodletting. (1908)
  • Asthma is best treated with morphine. (1909)
  • Pneumonia should be treated with bloodletting. (1922)
  • Hemophilia can be treated with bloodletting. (1938)
  • Jacksonians regarded professional licensing and medical regulations as antidemocratic. This attitude persisted until the Progressive Era, when social activists rallied to regulate everything. In 1910, the American Medical Association finally established some medical standards in the Flexner Report. It also noted that the country had way too many doctors and recommended that the number of medical schools be reduced by 80%. By 1935, state boards had closed 60% of the medical schools in the country, and the number of annual medical graduates fell by more than half.

    Now America has a doctor shortage. Today’s medical care is better than it was in the 1900s, but it’s still pretty terrible compared to what you might get if you were a dog.