Thursday, September 07, 2006

Our patient?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been introducing patients in my presentations on rounds as “our patient.” For example, “Mr. X is our 54 year old male with HIV and pneumonia.” Most of the other residents and students I’ve noticed do the same. Well, earlier this week our attending, who trained in the Age of Giants, suddenly and impulsively asked in the middle of a student presentation, “When did it become ‘our’ patient?”

We had all kinds of answers for him: “it IS our patient”. . .”it’s natural”. . . “it’s taking ownership of the patient”. . .”it’s just nicer.”

He harrumphed and didn’t really reply. During the next presentation, however, when a resident presented “our patient,” he was quickly corrected to “the patient.” After 3-4 more corrections during the rest of rounds, our attending effectively purged the words “our patient” from our vocabularies. I resented this at first; why on earth, I thought, was he doing this? After listening to several presentations with the new phrasing, though, I began to agree with the attending. “Our patient,” although certainly neither incorrect nor inappropriate, did carry a sort of pseudo-intimacy that colored the clinical picture. It just wasn’t really necessary and perhaps sounded a little too cutesy for academic medicine. Unencumbered by this false emotional attachment, “the patient” was just the cleanest and most simple way of presenting a patient.

Amazing, the feeling when you’ve been unwittingly looking through a rose-tinged lens for as long as you can remember and then somebody suddenly removes it.