Doctor duo skewers health system with lyrical laughs
■ They want audiences to have fun, but also think about health system change.
By Damon Adams — Posted Aug. 2, 2004
Doctors, take your places. Get ready to cue the lights. Three ... two ... one. ... It's show time!
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And now ladies and gentlemen, the musical comedy about health care in America, "Damaged Care."
Internists Barry Levy, MD, and Greg LaGana, MD, take the stage, ready to spend the next 45 minutes entertaining you. It's their time to put the spotlight on the trials and tribulations of medicine -- using a little song and dance.
The two doctors perform "Damaged Care: The Musical Comedy About Health Care in America" in cabaret style several times a year for medical societies, hospital groups and others who need a little levity to help the medicine go down.
"Somebody said we're not 'Les Mis.' Well, that's true. It's more what we sing than how we sing," said Dr. Levy, 59, a consultant in occupational and environmental medicine and adjunct professor of community health at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.
Listen in as the doctors sing about the changing doctor-patient relationship in the tune "Doctors in Cyberspace," set to the music of "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story:"
I do drug sales, with my e-mails
I can treat anyone who is sick
Males or females
All I have to do is point and click.
No relations, to your patients
So you don't use your stethoscope much
So you never have to feel or touch.
The two doctors started poking fun at health care in the late 1960s when they were students at Cornell University Medical College in New York. They wrote and acted in annual class shows and at parties, spoofing faculty and medicine. Through the years, they kept in touch.
They thought about writing a musical about health care and signed up for a musical theater writing course. They penned "Damaged Care" for their 25th medical class reunion, zinging health care issues through song parodies.
Hospitals, insurance companies, drug manufacturers -- nobody was immune.
After the reunion show in 1996, they got requests to play other gigs. Now, they average seven or eight shows a year. They charge national groups $10,000 and state gatherings $6,000. They rehearse by phone, a cappella, and update their musical to suit the times, recently fitting in lyrics about cloning pigs in a garage.
"The hardest thing is staying ahead of the curve of absurdity. We'll joke about one thing then we'll see it in The Wall Street Journal a week later," said Dr. LaGana, 60, who works as a staff physician in New Jersey for Merck and Schering-Plough.
Back on stage, the two doctors are singing "That's Cost Containment" to the tune "That's Entertainment."
Tell patients that they've overstayed
Tell the docs they cannot be paid
Fire three nurses, hire an aide
That's cost containment
A spoonful of humor
"If we gave the same message from the lectern, they might throw eggs at us. But [at dinner meetings] they laugh behind their menus," Dr. Levy said.
Beth Ingram nearly worried herself sick wondering what reaction "Damaged Care" would get at last year's annual meeting of the Arkansas Hospital Assn. The hospital crowd loved the show and its jabs.
"I guess you have to laugh or you're going to cry," said Ingram, association vice president. "They're not going to win any Tony Award for singing, but it's perfect fun."
Dr. Levy and Dr. LaGana don't pretend to have the answers to health care's woes. They want "Damaged Care" to encourage physicians and others to take leadership roles to improve health care. They hope to leave you laughing. And thinking.
Damaged care, we left issues on your plate
Damaged care, do your part it's not too late
Now our cabaret is over, there's a lot of work to do
For our health care to improve, it all depends on me and you
If we work together, then we can repair