Currently, I am a medical writer for clinical trials. The human aspect of my job is hard to ignore considering that I am writing about subjects' immunology and safety results. However, a recent New York Times article took me back to my earlier days of working as a medical technologist in a hospital microbiology laboratory; a time when the human aspect was not always present.
As a technologist, I spent many hours processing serum samples through machines, and, at times, feeling like a machine myself. In other respects, I had to force myself to de-humanize the certain samples due to their inherent nature. For example, I would pretend that stool samples were actually mud; however, it was difficult to keep the mental image of mud when that mud also contained corn.
The main point is the fact that the job duties became extremely mechanical in nature. The workload was high, and the manpower was low. Therefore, tasks must have been performed efficiently without extended thought, and it was very easy to forget about the human aspect of the job.
Dr. Yehonatan Turner, a radiologist from Jerusalem, appears to have the same problem in his field, but he thinks that he has come up with a solution.
When Dr. Turner began his residency in radiology, he was frustrated that the CT scans he analyzed revealed nothing about the patients behind them. So to make things personal, he imagined each patient was his father. But then he had another idea; to attach a photograph of the actual patient to each file.
Dr. Turner’s hunch turned into an unusual medical study. Its preliminary findings suggested that when a digital photograph was attached to a patient’s file, radiologists provided longer, more meticulous reports. And they said they felt more connected to the patients, whom they seldom meet face to face.
In the digital age, adding a photo to a file is a simple procedure, and the study’s authors say they hope it becomes a standard procedure; not just for radiologists, but also for pathologists and other doctors who rarely have contact with patients.
However, attaching photos to patient files could prove difficult in the United States. Privacy rules might require patient consent each time a photo was used.
Putting aside any ethical implications concerning privacy, the logistical considerations alone should be enough to thwart any thoughts of this photo system. Who supplies the photo? Would photo costs be covered under health insurance? What is done with the photos after a X-ray is processed? Would healthcare institutions need a separate filing area for all of these photos?
While Dr. Turner's heart seems to be in the right place, I think that his passion for photography and art should remain separate from his radiology career. I mean, where would the photograph madness end? If I were still a medical technologist, would I want to see the face of the patient's stool that I am plating?
I think the answer is that each individual in the medical field should take it upon themselves to find their own human inspiration behind mundane and mechanical tasks. For me, it was my once week expeditions out of the microbiology lab. I volunteered to be the individual to maintain the bloodgas machines in the Intensive Care Unit. If seeing people dying doesn't make you see the human aspect, then you're definitely in the wrong business.