In 2017, when Congress attempted to fix the problems with our national health- care system, I tried to fix some medical problems of my own. During my frustrating encounters with 11 different doctors, I received an enlightening education on the myriad flaws with the current state of health care in the United States.
The odyssey of fun with any doctor begins with the process of scheduling an appointment. Clerical staff cuts force me to wade through an elaborate phone tree that never has the option I want. After a frustrating runaround, I press zero, hoping to reach a human voice. Trying to ignore the irritating hold muzak, I eagerly await the possibility of actually speaking to a real person. Unfortunately, 10 minutes pass before I finally hear a recorded message that someone will call me back. Invariably, that someone calls me back when I am in the bathroom, causing me to miss the call by seconds. Quickly, I dial the phone number left on my voicemail message only to re-encounter the same phone tree. Too tired to fight with a long, recorded message, I opt to try the next day.
The next day’s efforts become a bit more fruitful because I decide to carry my phone with me everywhere I go, including the bathroom. Success! A human voice informs me that my insurance benefits must be reviewed before I can schedule an appointment. Thankfully, I have good insurance, so I hear back within a few hours, right before my next trip to the bathroom. The first available appointment is four weeks away at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. Of course, I need to arrive 15 minutes early to complete an entire ream of paperwork.
The Doctor’s Office
Upon arriving at the doctor’s office a half-hour early, I wonder how anyone could finish all this paperwork in 15 minutes. As I hand the completed forms to the overworked receptionist, I observe a sign that reads, “If you are over 15 minutes late for your appointment, you must reschedule a new appointment on a different day.” Wishfully, I interpret this to mean the doctor will see me within 15 minutes. Instead, I wait nearly an hour until the nurse calls my name. After leading me into an exam room, she instructs me to change into a hospital gown that leaves my backside almost entirely exposed.
That’s when the real wait begins. And, so do the worries. How am I going to pay for this? Will this hurt? What tests will the doctor order? Will I get out of here in time for my next doctor appointment?
After another hour, the doctor finally knocks, opens the door, and coldly asks, “What are you coming in for?” After a long pause, I reply, “Hmmm, I don’t truly know why I am here. My primary doctor referred me. I think it has something to do with some recent lab work.”
The doctor writes notes about my symptoms as he occasionally insults my lack of medical knowledge. He doesn’t seem too clear about why I am even there in the first place. The appointment concludes with the doctor promising to fax an order for more lab tests at the local hospital.
The next day, I call the scheduling office at the hospital only to hear another voicemail message saying they will call back within 24 hours. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. After I leave one or two more messages, they finally call back. However, they inform me that they don’t have the doctor’s order on file to do the lab tests. Then they recommend that I call the doctor’s office to ask them to refax the order.
Once again, I’m wading through another phone tree, only to get a voicemail message stating someone will call back. Now I have gotten a little smarter; I recently installed a cordless phone in the bathroom just in case, along with a pad of paper and a pencil. Remember, I told you previously I’m dealing with 11 doctors here.
The doctor’s office finally calls me back. After arguing that I don’t need an order for those particular tests, I insist the hospital says I do, so they reluctantly agree to fax them. The next morning at 8 a.m., I race back to the labs. This time I have the ordering doctor’s phone number just in case. Miracles do happen – sometimes things go as planned. The order was received, and I complete the lab tests quickly and efficiently.
Weeks later, it’s back to the doctor’s exam room again. After another interminable wait, the nurse informs me that a physician’s assistant (PA) will see me instead of the doctor. When the PA enters the room, he immediately blames me for not getting the doctor’s ordered lab work done. After assuring him that I did, he leaves the exam room and returns 15 minutes later – with my lab results. Then he asks me the same questions I answered in the volumes of paperwork I completed during the last appointment.
Results of all the Runaround
Twenty minutes later, the doctor walks in and admits that he is not too sure what’s wrong with me. He offers a few possible diagnoses, one of which is terminal with no treatment options. Then, he prescribes a medication to add to the several I am already taking. Following another costly trip to the pharmacy, I feel quite unsettled upon reading the daunting list of the medication’s side effects.
After months of doctor exams, lab tests and follow-up appointments, here are the typical fruits of my efforts.
- The doctor does nothing.
- The doctor prescribes a medication that does nothing.
- The doctor refers me to another specialist who does nothing.
- Worse than nothing, the doctor prescribes medicine with horrible side effects.
Frustrated with the lack of results from seeing conventional doctors, my wife talked me into seeing a nutritionist and a counselor. With their guidance, I made a few dietary changes, started an exercise program and learned some techniques to reduce my stress. A few weeks later, my counselor suggested that my medical issues might be related to stress. A few months later, I went off all my meds and have felt great ever since.
Here are critical questions related to our national healthcare system. Why didn’t any of my 11 medical doctors tell me my problems were the result of stress in the first place? Why did it take six months of doctor appointments, dozens of lab tests, hundreds of dollars of worthless prescriptions, thousands of dollars of out-of-pocket expenses, tens of thousands of dollars in insurance-paid expenses, and dozens of hours wading through phone trees and waiting in doctors’ offices?
My medical misadventure demonstrates the need for a complete overhaul of the healthcare system. Doctors, struggling to comply with legal mandates, must expend precious time and scarce resources to meet its burdensome regulations, often resulting in a reduction of practice revenues. To compensate, many must overly rely on less competent physician’s assistants (PAs) to treat patients and see more patients than is ethically manageable. Since many doctors also cut part clerical staff hours, medical practices have become increasingly reliant on automated systems, through which more patients fall through the cracks.
In sum, our current state of healthcare is bad for business, bad for healthcare and bad for the well-being of people needing medical care nationwide. Reform is necessary to restore balance to the system, freeing doctors and patients alike from the current restraints placed on them as providers and consumers in the medical marketplace.
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