Everyone Relax: The British Male Pregnancy Scare Was Just One Big False AlarmS

As thousands of British men wandered into hospitals between 2007 and 2010 to be treated with pregnancy-related procedures like obstetric exams and midwife services, you can bet Republican strategists gathered in a dark war room over a map of the Atlantic and debated just how feasible it might be to build a giant ocean wall between America and the British Isles in order to keep the plague of apparent penis pregnancies out of America. It turns out, though, that all their worrying was for nothing — those "male pregnancies" turned out to be nothing more than a series of medical coding errors.

Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post's Wonkblog, unable to resist a tantalizing reference to the Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1994 "classic" Junior, writes that the nearly 17,000 British men apparently experiencing (or being treated for) symptoms of pregnancy had researchers in London collectively stroking their chins and muttering, "Interesting" over and over again. As it happened, the culprit for all these human seahorse cases was the much less interesting (if more pertinent) problem of incorrect data entry. Men weren't going to the doctor for pregnancy services — they were complaining of guy stuff, like post-nacho cheese binge constipation or abdominal pain from too many gallon-challenge attempts. The codes for those issues, however, are very similar to codes for obstetric services. A few fumbling, inattentive keystrokes after a doctor's visit and bam — dudes are pregnant. It can all happen so fast.

Kliff explains that this odd story highlights a growing debate in the increasingly contentious realm of U.S. healthcare: just how should we code all of our ailments? Right now we use a system called the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which is one dizzyingly long list of conditions and procedures. Some people want to upgrade this system, because the 18,000 extant medical billing codes don't even begin to chronicle how pregnant with sicknesses we as a nation are. The new ICD system has about 140,000 codes, which, say its proponents, will help prune the bureaucratic weeds out of medicine and allow for more comprehensive healthcare delivery. Not so fast, claim the new system's detractors — 140,000 possible codes is, like, a lot of codes. There could be way more medical fuck-ups, such as constipated men getting primo prenatal care while actually pregnant women languish in underfunded health clinics.

Why Britain has 17,000 pregnant men [Wonk Blog]