As a medical professional, you’ve probably heard or used the phrase “you’re not just a number, you’re a person” when referring to the way you treat your patients. It may surprise you to learn that a doctor was responsible for turning telephone customers into numbers. When an epidemic of measles hit a small town in Massachusetts in 1879, Dr. Moses Greeley Parker worried what would happen if all the town’s telephone operators fell ill at the same time. The local operators knew the names of the town residents and who in town got the emergency calls – but replacement operators wouldn’t know who was who. Dr. Parker devised a plan to replace names with an easy to follow system of numbers – and the idea soon spread faster than the measles. The cheery greeting “Number Please?” soon became a common phrase when operators responded to calls.
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