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Dr. Robert Reiser
Medical Director for the Emergency Department and Associate Professor of
Clinical Emergency Medicine, University of Virginia
Tonight’s speech by Dr. Robert Reiser brought together Classics and Medicine in a unique narrative relating the Trojan War to the challenges facing modern emergency room practices today.
Dr. Reiser’s column, which is published monthly in the Crozet Gazette, typically involves stories that he and his coworkers encounter in their time in the emergency room. He says his writing style is inspired by Steven Jay Gould, a historian of science, in that his columns usually start with a “hook” to engage the reader.
Dr. Reiser’s “hook” in his speech at Jefferson Hall was that the opening lines of the Odyssey are focused on Rage, but the tone of Homer’s poetry changes throughout the piece, and is sprinkled with such epithets, or stock phrases, that often are engrained in the vernacular of classics buffs. Epithets such as “rosy-fingered dawn,” “Athena, tireless one,” and “Hector, of the shining helm” help to keep the readability of the poem fluid.
Dr. Reiser explained how Homer’s poetry was not always in written form, and needed to be passed on through the Greek Dark Ages by word of mouth story telling. Such poetry narrations helped develop the oral formulaic poetry that is characterized by dactylic hexameter found in most of Homer’s works.
The epithets from Greek poems have an epic impact on the way medical records help tell a patient’s story, according to Dr. Reiser. Reiser claims that his “scribes” often use a template based on the choice of more than 50 phrases to characterize quickly the status of patients in the time-critical emergency room.
Epithets such as “little old woman” (LOW), “gun-shot wound” (GSW), “Chief Complaint” (CC), and “Physical Exam” (PE) help doctors to keep track of significant medical details with their multiple patients. The problem, however, brought up by Dr. Reiser and members of the hall were that the “anchoring bias” could sometimes cause doctors to prescribe more treatment than is necessary since the interpretation of a specific epithet could come with some preconceived notions of a remedy before actually looking into the situation.
According to Dr. Reiser, the power of dialogue and communication between medical professionals is extremely useful, and can outweigh the “Caregiver Fatigue” that usually comes with seeing multiple injured and dying patients day-after-day. The caregiver fatigue means that the doctor may be calloused from seeing so many tragedies.
The talk shifted to the feasibility of a national health care plan during the Q&A, where a member asked for his stance on the plan. Dr. Reiser responded that he has conflict of interest because it would initially mean that he would get paid more since there wouldn’t be so many patients with delinquent payments. He also mentioned over time that the price pressure from a national health plan could reduce his income as well.
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