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... What did this experience teach me about the current state of medical care in the US? Quite a lot, as it turns out. I always knew that the treatment of the critically ill in our best teaching hospitals was excellent. That was certainly confirmed by the life-saving treatment I received in the Massachusetts General emergency room. Physicians there simply refused to let me die (try as hard as I might).
But what I hadn't appreciated was the extent to which, when there is no emergency, new technologies and electronic record-keeping affect how doctors do their work. Attention to the masses of data generated by laboratory and imaging studies has shifted their focus away from the patient. Doctors now spend more time with their computers than at the bedside. That seemed true at both the ICU and Spaulding.
Reading the physicians' notes in the MGH and Spaulding records, I found only a few brief descriptions of how I felt or looked, but there were copious reports of the data from tests and monitoring devices. Conversations with my physicians were infrequent, brief, and hardly ever reported.
What personal care hospitalized patients now get is mostly from nurses. In the MGH ICU the nursing care was superb; at Spaulding it was inconsistent.
I had never before understood how much good nursing care contributes to patients' safety and comfort, especially when they are very sick or disabled. This is a lesson all physicians and hospital administrators should learn.
When nursing is not optimal, patient care is never good....