Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Take a Picture, It Lasts Longer

First published in The Oxford Journal on November 28, 2012 by Sara Mattinson.

It started out as two small spots on my upper right arm on a Tuesday. They became itchy so I  blamed it on the cuff of my shirt rubbing against them. 
By Thursday, those two spots had become many, spread all over the inside of my upper arm. And they weren’t spots any longer; they were puffy, oozing welts. My husband fetched non-stick bandages from the pharmacy which soaked through quickly, and the next day, insisted I go to the Collaborative Emergency Centre at the hospital in Pugwash. 
I was the first patient on the first day of the new CEC. 
Doctor Number One, unfamiliar, apparently called in just for opening day, looked at my arm and asked a few questions. He checked the computer (was he Googling my symptoms?), told me I had shingles and sent me off with a prescription. 
I saw Doctor Number Two four days later when my left eye got itchy and I thought the shingles had moved to my eye because the stuff on my arm was spreading. He said I had a bacterial infection and prescribed an antibiotic and a follow-up appointment. 
Doctor Number Three took one look at my arm, called a dermatologist in Moncton, Doctor Number Four, who prescribed a steroid cream and told me see her the following week. By the time she examined my arm, the only visible signs of what had been red, raw, itchy and oozing was red, raw and healing. She guessed it was contact dermatitis, likely from poison ivy, and said to come back if it flared up again. 
So let’s review: I saw four doctors, none of whom are my family doctor. None of those doctors saw any notes made by the previous doctor. Every doctor had a different diagnosis because they were seeing my arm at a different stage (including the I’m-throwing-everything-in-my-medicine-cabinet-on-it stage). 
To call this system inefficient is an understatement. We have smart phones that do everything but vacuum our homes yet our medical files are not available on a computer network for all doctors to access and no digital picture of my arm at its worse was taken for future reference (say, six months later, if my family doctor wanted to figure out why my arm had fallen off). Instead, all visits to the ER/CEC are written on paper forms which are then filed in the basement of the hospital. There is no way to track how many times someone shows up and with what symptoms. 
This isn’t a lack of technology but a lack of using the technology that is available. Frankly, it is shocking and unacceptable. We live in a 21st century world with 22nd century capabilities yet our delivery of health care services languish in the 20th century. 
I’m surprised someone didn’t suggest a proper leeching. 
 My medical information should be available to every doctor in this province. Don’t scream “Privacy issues!” at me. You have no idea how much Google and Facebook know about you already, and considering the lack of discretion most people exhibit when posting information to the Internet, I’ll take faster, more accurate health care over fears someone might hack into my medical files. Seriously, one piece of paper per visit that gets dumped in the basement for no other doctor to see? This seems like the perfect system for creating prescription drug addicts. 
This sad state has nothing to do with us living in the backwoods; it’s just plain backwards. Actually, those of us who choose to live in a rural area, who accept the two-hour drive to see specialists or for surgery would be far better served if we implemented even HALF the technology we use in our daily lives. It would have saved the health care system, myself and my employer time and money if that phone call to the dermatologist could have happened over an Internet phone with me holding up my arm for her to see. 
The next time I show up at the CEC with an ailment, I’m going to ask if the doctor’s smart phone could see me instead. Maybe it can tell me why that spot on my upper arm is still itchy.

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