Healthcare IT, let’s not lose site of the patient

It is easy to remove oneself from what is important as we trade metaphorical tomatoes about what is wrong with EHR, what may happen to the healthcare reform, and why the nationwide health information network is DOA.

Debating healthcare IT on the Internet is an esoteric and antiseptic conversation, one with few if any catastrophic implications to anyone other than the person trying to sell a used, $100 million EHR on eBay.

We write about the fact that it is supposed to do something to benefit the patient. Is there a more sterile word than patient? Whether we use patient or patients, we keep it faceless, nameless, and ubiquitous. They do not have to be real for us to accomplish our task; in fact, I think we do our best work as long as we keep them at arm’s length.


We calculate ROIs for EHR around people who exist to us only by their patient IDs.

What if these hominoid avatars turned out to be real people? What if indeed?

Recently I learned of a real patient; a friend, 37, mother of three. She has had lots of tests. They call it Myelodysplastic Syndromes. MDS sounds more polite. One would think that because it has its own acronym that might imply good news. It does not.

The thing I like best about Google is knowing that if an answer exists, I can find it. I may have to vary the syntax of the query a few times, but sooner or later I will find what I seek. The converse can be quite disquieting, especially if you happen to enter a phrase like, “survival rates for MDS.” After a few tries I realized that the reason I was not getting any hits to my query had nothing to do with poor syntax. It had everything to do with a lack of survivors.

“Last Christmas” is a rather strange title for a blog. In this instance the title has nothing to do with anything religious. It is simply a line in the sand, a statement with a high degree of probability. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” does not have the same meaning as the phrase, “this past Christmas.”

My friend has had thirty-eight Christmases. Apparently, MDS is able to alter simple mathematical series. If presented with the numerical series 1, 2, 3. . .37, 38, 39, and if we were asked to supply the next number, we would all offer the wrong answer–40. In her case there may be no next number; the series will likely end with 39. That’s MDS math.

Then there are the three children, each one of them in the same grade as my three children. They will be learning a different version of MDS math. All the numerical series in their lives will reset and begin again with the value of one. First Christmas since mom died. First birthday since mom died. Every life event will be dated based on its relationship to an awful life-ending event.

It will be their B.C. and A.D.

EHR probably has very little value when you break it down to the level of an individual patient. Stalin said something like, “one death is a tragedy, and a thousand deaths is a statistic.” While it is unlikely that he was discussing patient outcomes, the import is the same.

Rule One: There are some awful diseases that will kill people.
Rule Two: Doctors are not allowed to change Rule One.

I guess it goes to show us that as we debate things that we view as being crucial components of whatever lies under the catch-all phrase of healthcare, when it comes down to someone you know who probably is not going to get better, some things do not seem very important.

One thought on “Healthcare IT, let’s not lose site of the patient

  1. Paul, How true. Consumer of care I believe is a better term. Many Doc do not like it but it is becoming more fitting every day.




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