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Does Anybody Read All of Those Medical Forms?

Does any living, breathing human believe that there is not enough paperwork in their lives? While we are all burdened, I believe that the medical profession is uniquely deluged with an absurd volume of documentation requirements, most of which should be filed under “N” for nonsense. Ask any physician or nurse about this and have antacids on hand as you will soon see some sizzling smoke emerging from the medical professional’s nostrils.

Each hospitalized patient has a tremendous amount of recorded data which nurses painstakingly document. This requirement fails on two fronts. It takes nurses away from time at the bedside. Additionally, most of the stuff they document is not viewed by physicians or others on the care team. For example, I rarely read the nurses’ notes. Is this because I do not value the nurses’ opinions on my patients? Hardly. Instead of perusing their written descriptions of my patients’ progress, I use a sophisticated, high-tech technique to obtain their input. I will illustrate this below.

“How is my patient doing?”

Yes, I ask them directly. I’ve been doing it this way for 25 years, and I will continue to do so.

Patients also are signing reams of mindless forms in physicians’ offices and in hospitals at the time of admission. Hospitalized patients sign multiple forms before they are taken to their wards, and often must sign additional forms giving permission for blood transfusions and various diagnostic tests or surgeries. How carefully do most patients read these forms? About as carefully as we read through a 10,000-word legal document when we are upgrading software on our phone or computer before clicking on “I Agree.” Who has the time, interest, or legal knowledge to read through all of the stuff that we have to sign? I don’t.

A few days before writing this, a patient related an amusing prank she perpetrated on her physician. While in the waiting room, she was filling out a required form where she would list the presence or absence of various medical symptoms. She found it annoying that her physician requires that the same form be filled out before every visit. So, she wrote on the form that she had died last week. Curiously, neither the physician nor any of the staff asked the patient about this medical development. Perhaps, they didn’t think it was significant. You don’t think that they simply didn’t read the form, do you?

Michael Kirsch, MD, is a gastroenterologist who blogs at MD Whistleblower. This post originally appeared on KevinMD.


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