The computers slowed down to a crawl.
A hammer would have started a brawl.
But you can give us an A
We had the best day
In all the clinical hall.
Synopsis: I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010, I danced back from the brink of burnout and traveled for a year doing temporary medical assignments from Barrow, Alaska to New Zealand’s South Island. I’m now working at a Community Health Center part-time, which has come to mean 54 hours a week.
Usually, Monday morning opens with hospital rounds. Today I started early and finished early. I had time to get to the VA to have my TB skin test placed and have FedEx send off a packet of materials in preparation for a 2 week job in southeast Alaska in August. When I arrived at the clinic at noon I found the atmosphere tense.
Our Electronic Medical Record (EMR )system has problems, and every few weeks brings us another crisis. Frustration builds as the system slows down. By 1:00PM it made a glacier look positively zippy. Then it started to sputter, shutting down completely from time to time.
The mood of the clinical corridor darkened as the work flow slowed. I went downstairs and stuck my head in the Information Services room. “Are things going to run this slow for the rest of the day?” I asked.
“I’m afraid so,” came the answer.
A lightning strike in a distant city had melted links in out communication chain.
I walked down the hall and asked an administrator to come up to experience the problem. When we got to my computer, I demonstrated the 6 minute sign on. The PA at the next workstation volunteered that she’d been working on the same patient for the last 45 minutes. I showed the administrator how it took 5 minutes to change patients, but the process shut down completely. I watched facial expressions mirroring my own. I answered a few reasonable questions, and watched the administrator stalk out.
I turned to my two nurses. “We’re going to have a great day,” I said.
Then I thought for a minute. “We’ll use paper. Call everyone on the schedule who isn’t here yet and have them cancel their appointment.”
I talked to a couple of patients by phone, emphasized that we couldn’t do anything, and acceded to a request for a mood stabilizer, to be followed by a more thorough visit later.
I looked down the hallway at all the people ready to do physical violence to their computers; the frustration and the tension became palpable entities. If hands could have found hammers easily, terrible cybercarnage would have followed.
I thought about bicycling into a tropical storm in 1972 and singing Bob Dylan songs in the rain. I remembered playing my saxophone in the Fourth of July parade in Barrow, Alaska in 2010 under leaden skies with mixed rain and snow and numb fingers. I turned to my team.
“Anybody can have a good time when conditions are perfect,” I said, “But things are not perfect and we’re still gonna have a good time. Because we’ve practiced and we’re good at it.”
And we had a great afternoon and evening.