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[Susan notes: ]

Published in New York times
03/02/2011

To the editor

This fine letter--referring to a fine article--warns against exactly what Bill Gates/Arne Duncan are pushing onto schools--data obsession--teaching the test score rather than the student. Medicine loses patients to CT scan wiring; teachers lose students to McGraw-Hill numbers. In both cases, professionalism is held hostage to the printout.

Re Treat the Patient, Not the CT Scan (Op-Ed, Feb. 27):

As Abraham Verghese so aptly puts it, technology at the bedside is too often supplanting the hands-on physical exam in medical practice. The many errors that follow are both predictable and potentially catastrophic in overlooking critical clues to diagnosis, unnecessary testing and exposure to radiation. The costs mount as we lose the patient amid the wiring.

There is as well a further distance imposed by technology, and this is the distance between two human hearts: the physician's and the patient's. Empathy and kindness take back seats to the printout. Yet rather than seeing this as an excess of technology, we might see it as a dearth of values.

If we value the emotional and spiritual aspects of our humanness, we will assure their constancy within medical practice. Critical to reforming our health care is the reassertion of these values, their reinsertion into practice and training, and reimbursement that reflects the time and attention needed to treat the patient in all of his or her humanity.

The writer, a doctor, is director of behavioral health, ambulatory care, in the health services department of Contra Costa County.

Johanna Ferman


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