The New Personalization of Depersonalization

As a young healthcare professional of a couple of decades ago, one of the earliest lessons given to me in the clinical setting was to never depersonalize my patient. Rather than “the possible ankle fracture in Waiting area 2,” I was to reference “Mr. Jones, who will be receiving an x-ray of his ankle.” Someone would’ve escorted Mr. Jones (likely by wheelchair) to my department’s waiting area, where he would be – you guessed it – waiting for me to come out, call him by full name for identification purposes, introduce myself as I addressed Mr. Jones by his formal name (which would likely make him uncomfortable because he wasn’t used to being addressed as Mr. Jones), and then I would wheel him back to the room as we chit-chatted about anything from pets to pet-peeves (his, not mine, mind you).

Fast forward to today.

I took my son for a CT scan this afternoon. (CT is short for ‘x-ray on steroids’). He was called by his name only once – at registration in the confines of a corner-concealed cubicle – and it was by last name first (apparently to confuse anyone else in the vicinity who was in excruciating pain but might otherwise wish to eavesdrop and be in need of an additional x-ray for a broken HIPAA regulation). As we were directed from the open, airy, sun-filled waiting room toward the dank, dark recesses of radiology, I began to wonder if my son had been transformed into “he who must not be named.” (By ‘directed,’ I mean we were told to go to radiology, followed by some vague instructions that didn’t work the first time – probably because the director wasn’t sure if he could speak the name of the floor or department aloud, lest a HIPAA dementor be floating by to suck the life out of him. Wait. Too late.)


Arriving at the Radiology desk, my son’s papers were quickly snatched from his hand, where he was instructed that he would no longer be referred to by his name there. Rather, he was handed a number, as apparently had been every other person in the bat cave.

Forgive the blurriness - but I took this with my secret i-sphy-phone when I thought no one was looking.

Forgive the blurriness – but I took this with my secret i-spy-phone when I thought no one was looking.

I wasn’t sure if I was even allowed to glance around the room. I mean, were I to recognize someone, how appropriate would it be to say, “Well, hello there, Double-Oh-Seven. Why, I haven’t seen you around since you stole a kiss from me in that coat closet while we were still in single digits. You know, back when we all still called you Jimmy. Me? You want my number? Oh, you mean that number. No, I don’t have one of those little slips like….” I figured secret service agents might rush in and pull me out about then. So I kept my eyes to the floor – or to my iPhone. Close enough. Doesn’t HIPAA realize that’s why no one would’ve noticed anyone in there anyway? Unless someone was bold enough to check in on Facebook, I guess.

I digress.

My point to this story, you ask? Take a look at the nomenclature assigned to this number:  “Your Personal Number.” Good thing it was personal, meaning, I guess, that my son didn’t have to share it with anyone else. Can you imagine another 233 standing when his personal number was called? How embarrassing to be the wrong Number 233 – especially if you replied for the Barium Enema when you were there for the CT of your ribs. Even Mr. Jones might not have gotten that kind of guarantee.

Woe be it to the patient who loses that slip of paper and forgets the secret code number though. If you thought SOB was an offensive diagnosis, see how you feel about being SOL.

HIPAA-crits.

So why can’t you choose your number to help your memory along? Couldn’t a trucker be 10-4? A smart cop would insist on 10-43. Of course, Usain Bolt would always insist on being number 1. Marilyn Manson would probably ask for 666 every single time he came for his annual colonoscopy. (I guess his day would really be ruined if the anti-Christ showed up first.) And what about the prima donna who wants to be seen before everyone else, so she opts for a high-pitched 911? OK, I see the problem with my twist on this idea now. Best to keep us all as generic as Mr. Jones.

A century of nonsensical reflections later…

I’m wondering if my son is going to return to me with some secret identity. Didn’t Spidey have some radiation-related incident? If he comes out, powers up his Droid (that I’m sure he’ll be Jones-ing for), and wastes no time jumping on the Web, I’ll know to be logarithmically suspicious.

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