I felt like the stack of charts rose past my head and all the way to the ceiling. I pulled out my pen, opened the first, and started charting. I took a moment before each note to collect my thoughts. The patients were complex, the problems sometimes insurmountable. The nursing station at the facility was buzzing with activity around me. Phones were ringing, alarms were crying for attention.
On the desk beside me was a case filled with a dozen pagers. Every thirty seconds, one of the pagers would sound off and vibrate. The motion would send the case rattling against the desk and not only obliterate my concentration but also fray what was left of my poor fragile nerves. Every thirty seconds a chorus: rattling, chirping, beeping, or chimes.
Every now and then a staff member would distractedly reach out, press a button on a particular pager, and then go back to whatever they were doing. Hell, I even silenced the racket from time to time when the noise became unbearable.
I endured this dance for an hour as I finished writing my notes. By the time I was done, my eyes were red and my hair was disheveled from running my hands through it. As far as I could tell, the only function of this barrage was to drive the poor doctors, who often had no other choice but to use the desk for charting, crazy. I had not seen one definitive action taken in response to the buzzing pagers, besides turning them off.
I passed the secretary on the way out of the nursing station and couldn’t help but inquire.
Me: Hey, you know those pagers on the desk. They are always going off. What a racket! What are they used for.
Secretary: Those pagers? They are connected to the patient’s call lights. Every time a person hits the button at the side of the bed for help, one of those goes off.
Secretary: You know, like if a patient needs to get out of bed, or is hungry, or has to go to the bathroom.
Me: Or if they have chest pain, shortness of breath, or fell and broke a hip?
Secretary: Yeah, I guess that stuff too.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion. Watch his talk at dotMED 2013, Caring 2.0: Social Media and the Rise Of The Empathic Physician. He is the author of I Am Your Doctor: and This Is My Humble Opinion.
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