Orac, at www.oracknows.blogspot.com, recently posted about the tendency of doctors, nurses, et al. to refer to patients by their diagnosis (or room number), as in "the diabetic in room 3 would like to speak to you." Here's my reply:
You know, Orac, you're absolutely right about that - it is somewhat dehumanizing to refer to patients as "the ectopic" or "the pre-eclamptic in room 3" etc., but I've always thought that a small part of that is cognitive efficiency (laziness?) and also focusing on the most relevant part of the many things that are important about your patient(s). I mean, I'm not supposed to care if Mrs. Smith is married or an unwed mother, if she is rich or poor, if she is beautiful or ugly, if she is kind or cruel, but I'd better care a lot about whether she's anemic, hypertensive, exsanguinating, etc. So the shorthand may reflect a failure to consider the "whole person" but it also reflects the obligation doctors have not to let the social or even physical attributes of our patients (consciously) influence our treatment of the disease.
Thus, I don't care if you're a Democrat, a Vegan, a Right-to-Lifer, a bricklayer, or a CEO - on the table, it's me against the disease, so maybe I can be forgiven for targeting my skills at the one part of the person that is most important in the professional sense...