Why do they keep asking for my birthdate?

Occurences in the lives of friends and relatives were incentive to take advantage of the “preventive” component in my health insurance coverage and
schedule a real physical, as opposed to the meta-physical (ha ha) I’d get from an aviation medical examiner. (I kid you not, I had to sign a waiver for last my Class 2 medical saying I acknowledged it wasn’t a comprehensive medical exam and wouldn’t sue.)

When I called to schedule the appointment, the scheduler verified my contact and billing information (very important), asked me my birth date, then asked me to pick a doctor. Huh? Apparently my primary care physician has moved on since the last time I saw him. I asked the scheduling person for “someone who bikes.” It’s primarily an ice-breaker, helping me get past the white coat effect. Also, in the event that something clinically embarrassing is happening, which I’ll spare you examples of (for now), I can exercise my contitutionally-given right as a male to change the subject. To do this convincingly, I need a topic I know they’ll have an interest in. Food seems to be a bad choice for an exam like this. The scheduler spent five minutes longer than I expected, but turned up nothing because most of the public biographies have been sanitized to the point of being boring. The choice seemed to be based on who was working during my preferred appointment time.

The day of the physical, I checked in at the front desk where they asked me contact and billing information, my birth date, and to fill out six pages of medical history, including my contact and billing information and birth date.
I was having serious work deja vu. I had forgotten my puzzle book, and didn’t relish the alternatives: a five year-old back-issue of People magazine, a pamphlet on birth control for teenagers, and a diagram on the eyeball. I’ll try “Friends with Benefits” for $500, Alex.

The forms asked stuff that they should already know: contact and billing information, birth date, previous visits to a physician, family medical history. There’s also a lot of stuff that doesn’t seem like it ought to matter: marital status, who I’m shacking up with, educational background, employer. It started reminding me of a mortgage application, except the form wasn’t standardized.

I didn’t pace the forms well and waited for what seemed like an eternity. During that time I: watched a nurse chase away some guy bringing marketing samples from his pharmaceutical company; observed extremely sick-looking people in wheelchairs and on supplemental oxygen (feeling ironic for biking); practiced my skills at levitation; counted the dots on one of the ceiling tiles. (Until they started spelling messages to me.)
Finally, a nurse came, announcing my legal name for all to hear.

She was supposed to take the forms, survey them, and call out anything important for the doctor on a short-form. I don’t think she actually glanced at it because on one of the entries I made one of my famous qualifying footnotes. She too asked for my birth date. Then came the stumper: how old are you?. I almost shouted “1,332 dots,” but just gave her a puzzled look. She measured my height. Bad news is I’ve shrunk an inch! Next, came the depressingly accurate balance scale, registering five pounds heavier than my scale at home. Ego bruised, it was time to take my blood pressure. BP fine, so she walked me into a room, handed me The Gown, and told me to disrobe for the doctor.

I think he’d heard of me because we didn’t spend any time on the formalities of male physicals. Instead, the exam morphed into “the doctor spends an hour going through Jim’s laundry list of random minutae not warranting separate office visits.” He seemed amused by this and spent time iterating through the list. Surprisingly, I was given referrals to specialists for a couple of items on my list. (Ulp!)

The one I really need to see is booked until some future, dark winter month. But today, I went to the other’s. The visit got off to the usual start: requests for contact and billing information, my birth date, employer, credit history and a customized version of medical history.
The physician was pleasant, partly making up for the uncomfortable diagnostic technique her specialty involves. Without going into graphic detail, except to say it was above the waist, it was uncomfortable enough that I could refer to it as “a procedure,” if I were forty. When I wasn’t thinking about passing out, I contemplated how to best handle the expected procedure on my big four oh’s physical. I got have to lie down on a comfy chair for 20 minutes while the room became less “bendy.” It just underscores how squeamish I am about all things medical.

Tomorrow, I have a dental checkup. I’m expecting them to tell me I’ll need at least one filling replaced. When I do have that work done, I will opt for as much sensory deprivation as is available. Novocaine? check. Nitrous oxide? Better bring out the extra canister from the back room. Vibrating chair? that’s why I’m here, baby! Valium? if offered. Sunglasses? absolutely. Headphones? Anything but country.

While I’ve been waiting in lobbies, I’ve begun to think about how much reprocessing of information goes on. While I appreciate the accidental privacy, no one’s been able to ‘splain why they keep asking for my birth date. After they’ve already verified my patient number, address and contact information. In that order. On my planet, this sort of thing doesn’t change. Each organizational subunit (within the same overall health care provider) has it’s own forms. I can understand why, say, a doctor of neurosurgery would want to drill-down (ha ha) on brain-specifics not covered in the six-page tom requested by a general practitioner. However, I don’t grok why everyone has to ask me the same stuff, short of
self-perpetuating bureaucracy. It makes me think streamlining the process would help curb health care costs. Sheesh, even if they just photocopied the darn thing. One form shall rule them all.


  1. Medical forms are all designed at different times, by different drones, working for different bosses under different instructions. Therefore redundancy is a foregone conclusion. Besides, that birthdate is the only way to distinguish you from that other Jim Carson with the same SSN as you.

    I recently visited my HMO horde for my post-50 exam. Although they can’t seem to hold on to Dr.’s for more than a couple of years, they have successfully automated all medical records, so that you don’t get asked the same silly questions over and over. No need for paper prescriptions, either.

    My doctor has changed as well, to a young and very attractive woman of asian descent. Upon completion of the lubricated portion of the exam, she announced me fit. She then misspoke and told me that I’d need to have that particular exam “once a month”, and quickly corrected it to “once a year”. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or dissappointed at the revision.

  2. I actually refuse to give them my “patient number” As I’m on The Girlfriend’s insurance my SSN is in no way associated with my medical insurance. I figure, they have a computer they can generate a random number to keep track of me.

    But I think we should all keep track of our birthdays in dots instead of years. It seem so much more…something that’s much more. 😉 Hope your procedure went well.

  3. lol… She probably thought you were from outer space. Did they check for antennae? 🙂

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