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How Sir Isaac Newton's Laws of Motion Apply to Healthcare


Updated June 03, 2010

How Sir Isaac Newton's Laws of Motion Apply to Healthcare

Sir Isaac Newton explained the laws of motion. Little did he know how they would apply to modern day healthcare.

Sir Godfrey Kneller - from WikiMedia Commons

Sir Isaac Newton was an English mathematician and physicist in the 1600s. He defined three laws of motion, all three of which have application to healthcare. Most often, these laws of motion apply to healthcare behaviors - patient behaviors, provider behaviors, organization behaviors, politics and others. They can also be described by the relationship between money and healthcare.

Here are Isaac Newton's three laws of motion and some examples of how they apply to healthcare:

Newton's First Law: Inertia

Newton's law of inertia states that a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. This law tends to apply clearly to individual behaviors, but less so to organizational or political behaviors in healthcare.


• You are faced with difficult decisions for your healthcare, and they could mean the difference between life and death. You can just go along with whatever your doctor suggests (stay at rest), or as an empowered patient, you can take an active role in your medical decision-making.

• You are prescribed a drug or other treatment by your doctor. If you follow through with the treatment, then your health should improve (a body in motion). If you don't follow through, then your illness may not be cured, your symptoms may not be controlled, or you may get sicker. This follow through is called compliance or adherence.

• Your medical records may contain mistakes. If you don't correct them (a body at rest), then those mistakes may affect future care. If you do correct them, you'll be protecting yourself from future problems like medical identity theft.

• Your doctor writes a prescription, you pick it up at the drugstore and begin taking it. What you don't realize is that the prescription may not have been correct, or it may not have been filled correctly. Empowered patients will always double check prescriptions to be sure they have been prescribed the right drug and that the prescription has been accurately filled (a body in motion.)

• You receive an email full of lies and half truths about a topic like healthcare reform or swine flu and vaccines. If you believe what's in the email (body at rest), then you'll be stressed and disturbed. If you instead research the email (body in motion), you will know the truth, which may be far less upsetting.

Newton's Second Law: Acceleration

Newton's acceleration law addresses how the amount of force that pushes an object, the direction it is pushed, and the size of that object, affect how fast and far it will go when pushed. There may be some application of this law to large healthcare entities, like insurance companies or managed care corporations. In the United States, they have made large profits for a long time, and are being pushed to make changes. As large as they are, it's difficult to push them too far, too fast.

Newton's Third Law: Action - Reaction

This law of Newton's seems to have many and varied applications to healthcare in terms of both individuals and large entities. The law of action and reaction is similar to cause and effect, and is a good explanation for many of our experiences with healthcare.


Action: The cost of care goes up, but payers need to limit the care they pay for in order to balance their budgets or continue their profit-making.

Reaction: Healthcare Rationing and denials of care.


Action: Antibiotic drugs were developed to kill bacteria that cause illness in our bodies.

Reaction: The bacteria, following Darwin's laws of evolution, developed a way to fight off that antibiotic enemy, and have evolved to be stronger than the antibiotics intended to kill them. These stronger bacteria are often called superbugs, as in the cases of hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA and C.Diff.


Action: Reimbursements to primary care doctors (general practitioners) have have declined over the past several years. Even though their income has gone down, their business expenses have not, making it more expensive, and less lucrative to be a primary care doctor.

Reaction 1: Fewer medical students are choosing primary care for their careers, leaving us with a lack of enough primary care physicians in the United States.

Reaction 2: One way a primary care physician can boost his income is to perform more tests or procedures in his own office, instead of referring a patient to a specialist. That means patients are experiencing more tests and procedures and paying for more tests and procedures.

Reaction 3: Since primary care doctors are paid for procedures and not the time they spend with patients, they are scheduling more patients in their days, meaning less time per patient.


Action: Health insurers will not pay doctors to coordinate a patient's care with other doctors. Billing codes do not account for this activity, and doctors can't get paid for it.

Reaction: Patients do not get coordinated care, and therefore sometimes one doctor's recommendations conflict with another's, causing problems for the patient. For example, two drugs prescribed by two different doctors might conflict with each other. Or one doctor insists his patient continue to take a blood thinner, even though a surgeon has told that patient to stop taking blood thinners before surgery.

More Ways to Apply Newton's Laws of Motion to Healthcare

I invite you to add your ideas. Can you think of more ways to apply Newton's laws of motion to healthcare? Any aspect of healthcare is a candidate. I'd enjoy seeing your opinions about how this applies, and your creativity for explaining it. Why not give it a try?

Can You Apply Newton's Laws of Motion to Healthcare?

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