Calling Dr. Kildare! Calling Dr. Kildare!

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This morning I made a mental note to have my kids call a physician's office when they get home so they can hear something they've never heard before: a busy signal.

Yes, modern medicine is a marvel. They can remove your large intestine through your left nostril, but they can't get a telephone system that kicks a call over to voicemail when all the lines are in use. You can't get a busy signal calling our house, or anybody else's that I know of, because regular American families have call-waiting, auto-forwarding etc. But medical offices remain museums of hoary communications technology, with all the potential for waste, error and frustration that this implies.

I have one doctor with whom I communicate only by fax because his line is chronically busy. What--you didn't think they'd have email, did you? Doctor's offices never have email. Ok, a few have email--but they're careful never to check it.

Prescriptions of course are scribbled on paper. Awhile back I had one the pharmacist couldn't read. Why on earth are there paper prescriptions? Written by hand? Then again, why are there pharmacists? Couldn't I just insert my credit card into a pill-dispensing machine, the way I do for a pre-ordered Amtrak ticket? Wouldn't this reduce the possibility of errors? Especially if the instructions that came with the pills weren't printed in four-point type with columns a foot wide. Another time I had a scrip for a medical test that the lab tech couldn't read. If I croak I fully expect penmanship to be listed as the cause of death.

There's a lot of talk lately about the billions of dollars it will take to launch online medical records. Maybe we should walk before we run and just get all the doctors gmail accounts. Imagine the salutary effect on the nation's blood pressure when patients no longer have to dial and dial and dial...

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Daniel Akst

Dan Akst is a journalist, essayist and novelist who wrote three books. His novel, The Webster Chronicle, is based on the lives of Cotton and Increase Mather. More

Dan Akst is a journalist, novelist and essayist whose work has appeared frequently in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Wilson Quarterly, and many other publications.
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