5 Struggles Millennial Doctors Will Never Understand


By Melissa Sammy

As technology continues to rapidly evolve and create an increasingly digitally dependent society, it’s easy to forget that there was once a time when being a physician was even more demanding. With state-of-the-art facilities, coordinated care teams, and breakthrough therapeutics now the standard of care, the practice of medicine has become a little less challenging than in previous decades. But doctors didn’t always have it so easy.

Let’s take a look at five struggles from yesteryear that millennial doctors will never understand.

Pager panic

Today, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a millennial who knows what a pager is, much less how to use one. Years ago, however, on-call physicians heavily relied on pager—or “beeper”— notifications to receive emergency messages. They were simple and efficient but also frustrating. A page could mean anything from “your patient needs meds for a migraine” to “your patient is coding.”

Nowadays, doctors have it much easier with the use of smartphones. And while beepers were great, we now have new technology, like instant messaging services such as WhatsApp and Slack, that has eliminated much of the stress and miscommunication attached to them.

Unreliable fax

Not too long ago, doctors frequently used standard fax machines to share patient medical records and test results with collaborating clinics. This tedious process, used widely before the Internet, was a technological advancement in those days—but was not without its pitfalls.

Any number of things could go wrong during a fax transmission: you might receive an interfering busy signal, the recipient might receive a blurry print-out or a blank page in the event of a paper jam, or your fax might end up in the wrong place entirely. They’re also not ideal for emergency situations when a quick response to an urgent request might rely on a practice’s open office hours.

Physicians now have the convenience of using secure online systems for sharing important patient health information. Although fax machines are still cost-effective communication devices, more reliable technologies with improved security safeguards—such as e-fax, electronic health record (EHR) systems, and patient data-sharing platforms (like EDie)—are currently available.

Paper charts

Until recently, many physicians kept handwritten patient progress notes and paper charts. Despite being low-maintenance, however, this task was incredibly time-consuming and frequently resulted in disorganization, illegibility, and medical errors—not to mention carpal tunnel. In the shuffle of seeing patients, for instance, it was easy to misplace a patient’s progress note or incorrectly mark down a new medication dosage.

Now, with the use of computers, doctors can record patient data in a platform that is much more accessible. While paper charts are relatively no-frills and arguably unhackable, modern innovations—like EHRs—have reduced the number of medical mistakes by more than half.

Traditional, non-robotic surgery

Up until about 20 years ago, surgical procedures traditionally required hours of physically demanding labor while standing. Before robotic surgery, some patients, such as those undergoing chemotherapy, the immunocompromised, or older patients, were not able to withstand the toll that a long surgery would take on their health and may have gone untreated or simply received medication to ease their pain or treat their symptoms. But with robotic surgery, this changed for some patients.

Today, some surgeons can perform complex operations—even in remote or recessed areas of the body—from the comfort of their seat. Although traditional surgery is still routinely performed by surgeons in many specialties, the advent of minimally invasive surgery with robotic assistance has contributed to quicker recovery times, better patient outcomes, and improved quality of life among both patients and physicians for cardiac, colorectal, gynecologic, urologic, and other surgeries.

Long lab processing times

Prior to the 21st century, the turnaround time for lab results was excruciating. In the mid-1980s, for example, wait time for lab results in the emergency setting ranged roughly from 90 minutes for a simple chemistry panel to 5 hours for more complex tests. And providers in private practice saw even longer turnaround times—often by days. These processing intervals frustrated physicians to no end, especially within the context of patient priority in the emergency setting.

Clinicians now have it much easier with near-instant lab processing. As computer technology and laboratory equipment have evolved to become faster in recent decades, the average turnaround time for most lab processing is now less than 1 hour. In the near future, point-of-care lab tests may bring those turnaround times closer to minutes or even seconds.


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