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HEALTH CARE/ Albacete: Can “Your Doctor” be reduced to computer printouts?

The modern health care system has advantages but to develop a human relation between the patient and the physician, an important factor in therapy, becomes difficult. By LORENZO ALBACETE

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I write this at a hospital where I am accompanying my brother who is receiving a treatment for a health problem. Much has been written about the current state of medical care and I must admit that for a long time I have been one of its critics.

But I might be changing my opinion.

"Your Doctor" doesn't exist. What exists is an individual called your "primary care physician" who is a doctor in some field or another but whose main service to you is his or her ability to put together a team of physicians from many fields in order to deal with your symptoms.

(Of course there are doctors who are famous enough to go at alone, or who appear to eclipse their partners - like in law firms - by working for celebrities or winning Nobel Prizes.)

Even here at the hospital you never know who's in charge, since it can change without you being aware of it.

Of course there are advantages to this system, since you get a complete checkup each time, at least in your most crucial organs and their operations. In addition, this method allows the poor and financially strapped to benefit from use of the best technology in each fields of concern.

The problem with this situation is that it becomes impossible to develop a human relation between the patient and the physician, a factor so important in therapy. You cannot reduce Doctor Delaney or Doctor Gonzalez to computer printouts.

Still, though some of us still yearn for the friendship that was once possible with our physician, those days are, at least for now, gone. What the present system has done is reduce the meaning of the body to that of a machine to be cared for until time comes to put it away. I believe that medical teams become communities of reflection about where this care for the body comes from. What makes a human body human?

Over two decades ago a few doctors asked to come to their weekly meeting at a hospital to discuss the basis for the teachings of the Church in medical ethics. I said no, that I would go only if our discussion avoid ethics and study instead the Fathers of the Church, especially their mystical writings. At the beginning the doctors were confused but eventually they began to see the relation between care for the body and life in the Spirit.

Today, the Mystical Doctors (as they eventually called themselves) still meet regularly. I would like to have anyone of them as Primary Care Physician.

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