I hate to be critical of the medical profession, but have you noticed that doctors are ordering up more tests all the time? Gone are the days when M.D.s used stethoscopes and wore reflecting mirrors over their eyes. Now they sit behind their desks and, no matter what your complaint is, they say, "We better do a test on that." So you give the nurse your blood, and they tell you to call back in a few days and they'll let you know if "you have it" or "you don't."
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with this because medical science has become so sophisticated that technicians can now look at a cell in a lab and tell more about you than if they made you breathe in and out all day long.
The only problem is that, while we are putting ourselves in the hands of trained experts who have devoted their lives to medicine, they are now basing their diagnoses on the results of laboratory tests which, in many cases, are done by people barely out of high school.
I don't know if Washington is typical of the rest of the country, but I hear more and more stories about labs messing up on medical tests. The following ones are all true and took place during the last six months.
A lady friend of mine had a blood count done while she was in the hospital in the nation's capital. The results were so perplexing that her internist called a hematologist and checked it out with him. The hematologist said, "You have nothing to worry about. If that blood count is correct, your patient is dead."
A neighbor of mine who had returned from the Middle East wound up with an exotic bug that mystified the doctors at another Washington hospital. They were going to call in a tropical disease man when my neighbor's blood report revealed he had hepatis. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief that they finally had a diagnosis until it was discovered that my neighbor's blood sample had inadvertently been switched with one belonging to another patient.
The other patient's doctor was so confused by my neighbor's sample that he ordered it sent to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.
I am not making these up. Another friend of mine was being tested for a neurological problem. He was told that the results would take about three weeks. He waited patiently. (Actually, he sweated it out and was a nervous wreck). When he didn't hear from the doctor, he expeced the worst. He called. The doctor was surprised he hadn't heard from the lab. The doctor called. The lab people checked around. Somehow they had lost the sample and couldn't locate it. The test would have to be done over again.
I do have a lot more stories that I've collected, but so does everyone else. The system is breaking down. How can an M.D. diagnose an illness and prescribe the treatment when he has no assurance that the tests he's asked for are accurate? No one knows anymore who is down in the basement, mixing up test tubes and putting the wrong labels on microscopic slides.
The obvious solution would be to up the standards required of lab technicians and pay them a lot more money. Nobody would agree to this, so the second best answer is to put the doctors to work in the labs and put the lab technicians to work in the doctors' offices.
Since all of the important work in diagnosing an illness is now done in the laboratories, that is where the M.D.s should be. Anyone can man a desk in a doctor's office and listen to someone's complaint. It doesn't take much to ask someone to say, "Cough, when I say cough," or "When I do this, tell me if it hurts."
Nobody needs in-depth training to say, "Take off your clothes and stand on the scale over there." But it does take a lot of education and experience to look into a microscope and know whether a person "has it" or doesn't have it."
My dream is to some day walk into a lab at one of our hospitals in Washington and see M.D.s hunched over microscopes, solving the mysteries of their patients' ilnesses, while up in their offices are seated fresh, young lab technicians saying to the nurse, "I don't like the sound of that elbow. I think we had better order some tests."