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A Piece of My Mind
February 9, 2016

Can I Eat Yet?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Torrance, California

Copyright 2016 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA. 2016;315(6):557. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.18605

As an intern at an academic medical center, I was commonly the first and last physician a patient saw in the course of the day. The process of waking the patient, performing a physical examination, and reviewing nighttime events provided the opportunity to hear the compliments and complaints of patients regarding the nature of the care they received from physicians as well as ancillary staff.

Throughout my internship year, I had heard a veritable cornucopia of commentary from patients regarding their care, but the most common and persistent question that would be ready for me every morning was “Can I eat yet?” In the course of planning treatments, procedures, and surgical operations, we frequently prescribe the least desired of our medical interventions, the dreaded NPO. Nil per os is applied for procedures ranging from CT-guided biopsies to cardiopulmonary bypass operations. Frequently, it is selected with a simple checkbox or click on admission orders. In placing that checkmark, we think of being NPO as one more step in completing the patient’s care, a small hurdle of inconvenience that allows us to reach the loftier goals of health.

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