Sunday, July 25, 2010

I'll take the wrinkled machine with a heart

I walked into my doctor’s office and went to the desk to sign in. But the sign-in sheet wasn’t there. It’s always been there before, but now it wasn’t. I glanced at the receptionist and she pointed to a high-tech gizmo that I had walked by on my way to her desk.

No sign-in sheet, no pen – just a sparkling new computer console. In fact, there were two gizmos, cheek by high-tech jowl, just across from the reception area. So I followed the receptionist’s outstretched hand to this new thingy in my life and tapped its screen.

It blinked and I realized, again, life was changing and it was time to learn one more computer program to make someone’s life simpler. And it appeared, at least in the short term, that someone would not be me.

With each touch of the screen I was prompted to take some sort of action – place my driver’s license on the conveniently located scanner pad; turn my driver’s license over and scan the other side; scan in my insurance card; turn my insurance card over and scan the other side; check my name, address, contact numbers to make sure they were my name, address, etc.

Despite my phobia with all things digital, I quickly managed to work my way through the process, tapping my way through the list of doctors, appointment time, reason for my visit, then quietly acquiescing to the machine’s demand that I go find myself a seat in the waiting room.

If I had known about the new gizmo when I walked into the office, I would have managed the entire check-in process without actually having any contact at all with another living person. And, well, I guess that’s the idea.

At least that’s the story my doctor is telling. I walked into his exam room at exactly the appointed time and mentioned to him how it seemed his office was really jumping into the 21st Century.

He grimaced. Dr. S just celebrated his 70th birthday and is having a bit of a problem embracing all the new changes that his profession is adopting. Don’t get me wrong; he’s been my doctor for over two decades and knows me, well, inside and out!

But not that long ago he was part of a two-man practice that shuffled along when warp speed wasn’t yet de rigueur. All that changed when his little pond and little office was bought out by one of those mega-practices that always seem to have “medical group, LLC” at the end of its name.

Just a year or so later and the little office was dumped, replaced with lovely new digs that feature designer furniture, track lighting, color-coordinated everything – carpeting, tiles, uniforms for the nurses and techs – and at least a half-dozen additional physicians.

I guess there’s nothing wrong with all of that – really, nothing at all; I mean, ahh, really. Oh, right, there is this one thing. While all the stuff has been updated, the attitude of the staff seems to be heading in the other direction.

Dr. S said if he was still the boss – he’s just an employee now – that he’d immediately fire a half-dozen or so folks, the ones he labeled rude, lazy and, ahh, fat! His words. He also said that everything has become so impersonal. Well, duh!

There’s no question that the digital age is going to create scientific breakthroughs – miracles, plain and simple – that will dramatically improve the quality of life for all of us, wiping out all sorts of aches, pains and diseases that today are thought to be incurable.

But hopefully our physicians and all those who are part of the “healing arts” won’t lose their humanity working alongside the cool efficiency of digital thingies. A machine might compute its way through a crisis, but it’s the care and compassion, kindness and empathy of the machine with a heart that will provide real healing.

There’s a name for those machines. Humans!

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