If Doctors Wore Body Cams

If Doctors Wore Body Cams


Leonard Zwelling

Lately, we Americans have been given ringside seats to a series of police actions that led to the assault on or deaths of a number of young people. Most of these people were young, Black males. Where there might have been a time when white America could dismiss such occurrences, that time is long gone because we now have documentation of what happened and we are all aware of the racial aspect of these acts of violence.

Without getting into the details or the politics of these headline-making events, we can all admit that in some instances some police officers have used excessive force. What is less clear is whether this excess use of force was racially motivated or simply overzealous policing. It’s hard to know what is in the mind of another at the moment a violent act is committed.

In addition to these high profile instances of Black victimization by the police, there have been concurrent incidences of racially-motivated violence against Asian-Americans and, of course, there is the ever popular anti-Semitism that never goes away. Apparently this has become such an issue in the military, that the entire Pentagon is undergoing a review to root out extremism in the ranks. The great tradition of America being unwelcoming to the “other” goes on.

What I have been wondering is how well my behavior would have held up to the type of scrutiny that our law enforcement officers are subjected to. What if doctors wore body cameras and someone was constantly reviewing the tape?

I have no idea what such video might show from exemplary bedside manner to instances of frank cruelty. I have certainly seen both in my career. This is only to say that today, police officers are under enormous pressure to comport themselves well in all situations, many of which are life threatening.

Do I think that race played a role in the George Floyd incident as well as countless others? I do. Do I think the bad behavior caught on camera whether the nine-minute pressure on Mr. Floyd’s neck or the recent documentation of a 26-year veteran officer accidently shooting a young Black man at a traffic stop documents real misdeeds? I do. Should they be arbitrated in a court of law? Where else?

I am just not so quick to point fingers at police officers as being all bad because there have been a few incidents that got out of control. I know that the leadership of more and more medical institutions is putting a premium on interpersonal interactions of a constructive nature, EQ, and quality care among the faculty and staff. These are good things but must not overtake the most traditional measure of medical excellence, the improvement in the health of the patient. There are gruff and difficult doctors of immense talent. Personally, I never cared about the bedside manner of my many surgeons. When I needed them to be at their best, I was asleep.

We must be very careful in rushing to judgment about the performance of our law enforcement officers. They put their lives on the line for us every day. Like doctors, they often encounter people when those people are not at their best. It takes great patience, wisdom and experience to be a good policeman or woman. We have examples when this has not been the case and people have died. Doctors and policemen are in positions where life and death can be in their hands. But they are human and make mistakes. It is a matter of great ambiguity whether or not such mistakes are criminal. It’s not as easy as the videotape might seem to make it.

The George Floyd case is now over and Derek Chauvin has been found guilty of murder. I suspect we will see more such proceedings and the use of body cam video will take center stage in all such trials. Whether doctors need to wear such devices seems ludicrous to even consider. Then again, how well would we do?

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