Patient death by data: A poem


“Afternoon,” the doctor says. “What brings you here today?”
A cough? A cold? A belly ache? Some feelings of dismay?
Well, tell me just what ails you, and I’ll try to do my best,
To sort through all your problems and put your fears to rest.

But give me just a moment — my computer must get started.
Without attention to its needs, your visit goes uncharted.
You say your chest is hurting? And you’re really short of breath?
But lack of colon cancer screen could lead to early death!

And what about your tetanus shot? And hepatitis C?
And what of all the illness hidden in your family tree?
I know your chest is hurting, but I really must insist.
Attention must be focused on your total problem list.

So, give me just a moment while I organize your file.
Your med list is a puzzle that may take me quite a while.
You say your arm is hurting and you feel you’re getting dizzy?
Just hold that thought for one more sec, I’m really kind of busy.

OK, I think we’re ready now to deal with why you’re here.
We’ll have to make it snappy cause we’re out of time, I fear.
Remind me just what brought you in — afraid it’s slipped my mind.
Chest pain, breathing, dizziness? Oh dear, we’re quite behind.

Tell you what I’m going to do to care for you today:
I’ll write you a prescription that will take your pain away.
Just schedule for a follow-up — next week would be just fine.
And don’t forget Press Ganey — you can fill it out online.

Ellen Kemper is a physician.

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