Greetings. Even if you happen to be a relatively healthy person, you'll probably have the opportunity each year to visit some new doctors. Medical professionals in specialties you can barely pronounce with the unique ability to help you sort out some of the simple and complex maladies that come with age. There are helpful gastroenterologists (profiled in an earlier post on the value of colonoscopies) who focus on the efficient performance of your digestive system, dermatologists who determine if that colorful birthmark is morphing into a sign of possible skin cancer, cardiologists who will passionately search for the truth behind changes in your cholesterol and lipids, neurologists who might help you decide if your recent addiction to sudoku puzzles is slowing the pace of memory loss, orthopedic specialists who will explain in positive terms the sad details behind your gradual shrinking in height, and oral and maxillofacial surgeons who will describe and then extract a small but peculiar growth on your jaw.
And each of these experts will no doubt ask you to complete their version of a set of very similar forms. Forms that, sadly, are unable to communicate with each other. Forms that ask who and what you are, where you live and work, and how you can be located when you're not at their office. Forms that pose very personal questions about your health, history, and the behaviors you have that might influence their care and the longevity of your body. Forms that assure the doctor that they will be paid by your insurance or by you personally in the odd event that your insurance company decides that you are seeking unnecessary, uncovered, or overly expensive treatment. Forms that give them permission to share your information with other health professionals on your healthcare "team" who might also possess a keen interest in your well-being. Forms that enable them to send stuff they take from your body to an appropriate lab for analysis. Forms that demand consent to act on your behalf if, like Columbus, they discover some unforeseen or uncharted land while examining you. Forms that require you to attest to your general competence to read and sign forms. Forms with essentially the same information that you will have the privilege of filling out–in person or on-line–for every different doctor you visit. You lucky duck!
So it was when I had the privilege recently of filling out the latest set of forms for the latest specialist that I started thinking again about the awesomely inefficient system we have for collecting essential information needed to protect the health of each of us and all of the geniuses that surround us. A system that has no ability to share information, ask the right questions only once, and speed better health or healthcare to us in the most organized matter. A system that has no real clue who we are and yet continues to ask us to pay ever higher premiums for the chance to not even be a number–but rather a set of disparate numbers attached to disparate medical records all bearing a similar piece of the same puzzle. A system for which there actually is a simple and innovative solution if we would all stand up from our clipboards long enough to demand it.
So I faithfully completed this latest set of forms but with a sense of curiosity and humor. After all, I'd done this before and wanted to stand out from the pack. To somehow differentiate my answers from everyone else who had gone before me, especially given the fact that I was answering on-line with no chance to have anyone see my beautiful handwriting. And given that all of you must regularly complete the same forms, I thought it might be a good idea–in keeping with the spirit of the holidays–to share some of my answers which you can feel free to use as needed.
Question #1: "Pick one of the following — Mr., Miss, Mrs., Ms."
Question #2: "Pick one of the following — Male or Female"
Answer: "Is this question really necessary after I completed the first question?"
Question #10: "Who is responsible for paying your bill?"
Answer: "I might be making an unreasonable assumption here, but I thought that my insurance company would be willing to in exchange for the gigantic premiums I've been paying since Grover Cleveland was President."
Question #11: "And who is responsible for paying the portion that they don't?"
Answer: "That would be the healthcare payment elf or the tooth fairy, unless you guys are willing to cover it as a professional courtesy. Or possibly me as a last resort."
Question #57: "How is your sex life?
Answer: "Now that's a bit personal, though I can say that I would have a lot more time for this if I didn't have to complete so many forms."
Question #93: "Are you in good health?"
Answer: "I think so, and I'm delighted that you finally asked this question. In fact, other than the need to visit a medical specialist for an unexplained ailment, I feel absolutely remarkable."
Question #119: "Do you snore?"
Answer: "No. I'm actually the only person in the world who doesn't snore and don't let my wife and kids convince you otherwise."
Question #144: "Do you have any contagious diseases?"
Answer: "Not according to my surviving family and friends."
Question #147: "Do you have any known allergies?"
Answer: "As a child I was allergic to 94% of the plants, animals, and pollens native to Northern California. But since I no longer live there it is unclear if I still have these allergies. Though I am definitely allergic to woodchucks and rabbits with dandruff."
Question #305: "Do you wish to speak to the doctor privately about anything?"
Answer: "I think so. But if all twenty-five of your staff members and the other patients in the waiting room would like to hear the most intimate details of my condition please ask them to pull up a chair."
Question #372: "Is there anything else you would like us to know?"
Answer: "I really love filling out forms over and over again!"
We win in healthcare and in life when we make it easy for those we serve to share the information that matters most. And when we pay attention the first time.
Cheers and stay healthy!