Good Days…Bad Days With Maureen Pratt

Image courtesy of Tina Phillips/

Image courtesy of Tina Phillips/

The new and very detailed medical coding system is now up and running (or, in some cases, limping). This means that our docs and other healthcare workers will be drilling way down into the specifics of each of our symptoms and complaints in order to record them via tens of thousands of pre-set codes for our electronic medical records. On set of codes made me laugh the first time I heard about it, and I shared my sense of humor with my docs during my most recent visits.

“I’m very glad to report, I’ve had no adverse encounters with squirrels,” I said.

It took a moment for my docs to catch on, but eventually, they laughed, too. And one of them said, “Oh, let’s look this up.”

He went into the code list, did a search for “squirrel” and we discovered more than 6 codes relating to bites and “encounters” with squirrels, including “initial” encouter and “subsequent” encounters. There were even more for bites and other encounters with dogs and cats…and so on.

There’s a more serious lesson for us patients underneath the humor of imagining what people were thinking when compiling this very detailed list of codes: We as patients will have to be even more specific about out communications with our docs. “I fell” will no longer be sufficient. We’ll have to describe where, when, and under what circumstances we fell – and our docs will have to record just that, too. Yes, as our appointment times get shorter, our list of details will have to get longer!

How can we help ourselves and our docs as we move into this new and potentially frustrating terrain?

We need to be as prepared as possible. Write down all symptoms, and the details surrounding them and take that list with us to all appointments.

Develop a specific way to describe how we feel, making it as clear as possible, perhaps practicing with someone before we see our docs so that we’re even more prepared.

Know our meds, dosages, and medical conditions so those, too, can be communicated clearly to new medical professionals if need by.

Encourage, in ourselves and others, a profound sense of patience. This last point is not easy, but it’s ever more necessary as e-records, codes, and other non-human things further intrude into the oh-so-human experience of dealing with serious, ongoing illness.

Yes, patience, patient! And a healthy sense of humor,