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  • Sue MT

Dr. Widget

It has finally happened, I have transitioned to viewing myself as widget, a depersonalized interface between the EMR and the patient. I am the unnamed device that collects the patient data, and subsequently transcribes it into prose for billing purposes and maybe the occasional colleague review. There is a bit of curious comfort in identifying myself as a mere cog. I’m imagining I will now fly below the radar, undetected by Administration, and able to complete tasks despite missing the mark on necessary RVU’s. I will aim to move invisibly and emotionless through the day without being asked too many questions or given to many tasks. Oh, I bet I could make a game out of this!

I’m wondering if you are familiar with the inner workings of a Dr. Widget? There is a particular shape to this style of gadget. When seated, the motherboard of the contraption is tilted slightly forward with its grips moving across a keyboard while words simultaneously appear on the computer screen set before it. There is something mechanical, yet eerily human, about the device. Every once in a while it rises from its chair and interfaces with a patient. There are previously coded questions that come in a brief barrage from a facial orifice and then a verbal summary is offered to the patient. Amazingly enough, this contraption has been programmed to offer a nod and smile to the patient before departure. Widget 1.0, the pre-pandemic version, had been able to perform a physician examination and handshake, but those functions were deemed unnecessary in the update. It is theorized that the next version will no longer require a chair and be completely housed in a CPU (Computerized Physician Unit.) The current Dr. Widget still requires a bit of maintenance including occasional refilling with H2O and emptying of a muscular bladder that holds the filtered water. Interestingly enough the orifice on its front face can also take in candy, gum and coffee continuously without seizing up. Fascinating!

Most widget units are located in large health care centers and perform sub-specialized functions, such as administration of anesthesia, reading of imaging studies, and surgery. But, the base unit always comes with the needed EMR interface which is viewed as the widget’s primary function. There was a recent report from a large medical center that a group of widgets became senescent and began to resist mandates from Administration to improve efficiency. Application updates were made immediately by sending emails that contained negative threats of displacement. Thankfully this messaging slowed the network’s mounting energy and exponential acceleration such that the Laws of Nature were not violated. Brilliant!

So far, Dr. Widgets are not available for individual purchase, but it will only be a matter of time before this is the case. Some health care centers currently allow 24 hour patient access to their widgets. Convenience for the patient supersedes any maintenance needs of the contraption. There are mounting reports of burnout among widgets who have been run continuously. Unfortunately, motor replacement is not an option so a replacement widget is always needed. The cost to the health care system for a new widget can be as high as 300-500K. Excessive!

Mandates are requiring these professional widgets to improve efficiency, see more patients, complete all documentation, perform like a cohesive team, maintain network connections, continuously update internal files, and avoid burning out because it’s hard to reboot. Hey! Like any computerized widget I, too, have a maximum signal transmission speed and can only process limited numbers of inputs at any one time. With more mandates and requests come more decisions. More choices mean it takes longer to make a decision (Hick’s Law.) Inevitably, my processing and output will slow, and multitasking is already humanly impossible. What fixes are there for this Dr. Widget conundrum? Shut down some of the programs running in the background by closing your office door. Turn off your low-power mode by eating food and drinking water. Get proper ventilation by seeking nature. Free up space on your hard drive by pausing, deep breathing, meditating, listening to music, and stretching. Improve your WiFi signal by connecting with others. Or, do as this Dr. Widget is going to do, unplug and go offline!

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