Mass General timeline highlights healthcare changes for better and worse

Higher prices may be the cost of medical progress. Two hundred years after the Massachusetts Legislature created Massachusetts General Hospital on Feb. 25, 1811, researchers found that the cost of spending a day at the facility is more than 400 times higher now than it was nearly two centuries ago, the Boston Globe reports.

Two MGH doctors researched the first 100 surgery and 100 medicine patients to commemorate the hospital's founding.

"I wanted to show how different medicine had become," said Dr. Paul Russell, a transplant surgeon and chair of the hospital's history committee. "We really have come a long way."

In the beginning, half of the earliest patients went to MGH with infections. In 2007, only 13 percent of cases involved infections. The most common diagnosis in 2007 was heart disease, which affected 35 percent of all patients; the condition was rarely treated in the early 1800s.

The first patient, a 30-year-old saddler with syphilis, underwent nine months of treatment with mercury, boiled milk and lime water and a carrot poultice, before dying--probably from mercury poisoning, according to the Globe.

What's more, in 1821, patients had to apply for admission. They could be rejected for bad morals or discharged for spitting, drinking, smoking or swearing. Those who adhered to rules stayed about two months on average, compared to a stay of less than five days for non-surgery patients. The average daily rate then was 43 cents. Today? Try $3,200.

To learn more:
- read the Boston Globe story

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