Like two ships passing in the night, we sidled up to each other at the nursing station on the hospital telemetry ward.  I had already been home, ate with the kids and returned, while he hadn’t left the floors all day. As we typed away at our computer stations, we chatted sporadically.

However, once the usual pleasantries were dealt with and we jumped into local politics, the desultory atmosphere changed. Battle-worn and weary, we were hungry for news, and any sign that the tide was starting to turn gripped our attention.

The gossip started in a mostly pessimistic vein. But then I saw a glimmer in his eye. He abandoned his computer screen and turned to face me.

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“I bet you haven’t heard about [insert the name of your favorite academic medical center].”

He was excited now. Words tumbled from his mouth faster than the halting keystrokes with which he had, moments earlier, been disdainfully filling the electronic medical record — our new slave master. 

The news he so eagerly relayed was that an academic center had taken over a hospital, and had then proceeded to bully the hospital’s large allied medical group. 

The physicians, though, didn’t passively accept being pushed around. Quietly banding together, they steered their admissions to a local competitor. Months later, the academic center was on its knees with empty beds — and an angry community to boot.

We basked in the glow of vicarious triumph for a while, and then returned to our respective tasks. Although we both longed to get back home to our families, it was still sweet to take time to share this moment with someone who could relate. Someone who could understand.

I imagine that conversations like this one are taking place across the country in hospitals, clinics, doctor’s lounges and anywhere else physicians congregate.

Meaningful Use, EHR, PQRS, ACA, ACO, Value, Quality, Patient centered Medical Home, Medicare Fraud, The Physician Sunshine Act — a once proud profession is struggling desperately to find its soul.

I find it rather disconcerting that a decade ago, colleagues used to revel in a recent save, discuss a difficult prognostic dilemma or brag about the diagnosis of a rare ailment when their paths chanced to cross in the middle of the night.

But now, all we talk about is “sticking it to the Man.”

And I wonder about those who at this very moment moment are dying to find appropriate medical care — what do they feel about this?

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