Tag Archives: conversation starters

Why don’t doctors just talk to each other?

You know that old conversation starter/essay prompt, “If you had to pick five people, famous or not, dead or alive, real or imaginary, to invite to a dinner party, who would you choose?”

There are variations with different numbers and types of people, but the question’s basic thrust, I think, always comes down to a mix of “Who do you most want to talk to?” and “Who do you most want to talk to each other?” In other words, what combination of people in all the world and all of history do you feel would produce the most interesting dialogue?

This question was an option for my college admissions essay. I didn’t choose it, probably because I feared my taste in famous and historical companions would not pass muster. I’m still not sure it would, even after my four years of cultural grooming.

But lately I’ve been thinking about it again, not so much in terms of a fantastic philosophical discussion I could arrange, but in terms of a conversation I could trigger that would have immense utility for me personally. What if, a couple years ago, I’d thrown a dinner party for all of my different doctors—my old general practitioner, the emergency room doc I saw one time, the gastroenterologist who prescribed OTC medication, the ob-gyn, the dentist—and proposed the conversation starter “Diagnose Molly”? (Personal health makes for great dinner conversation.)

Could they have done it? Could they have laid out all my different symptoms on the table and connected the dots, instead of each focusing myopically on a different piece of my health? Or would they refuse to talk to each other, kick each other under the table, pick at their meals? Would the GP look down on the GI doc and the emergency room doc fixate on his beeper and the dentist drift into fantasies of his future yacht?

Maybe they’d manage it if I threw a celiac disease expert in there. Or gave them access to WebMD.

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if instead of a splintered, segmented health care system, we had doctors who spoke to one another? Of course, doctors have so many other patients to deal with that they would never have time for a little conference focused just on me.

But what if they . . . you know . . . shared their records with one another in an organized way, using the advanced technology we have available for preserving and sharing information? Might that not have helped? Might the pieces not have come together faster?

Is that such a fantasy? Is it science fiction? If you ask me, it shouldn’t be.

I’m off to Washington, DC, today to visit my brother and see some cherry blossoms. Have a nice weekend, and tell me who you’d invite to a dinner party if you could pick any five people.

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