Patients but No Virtue

As I mentioned briefly last week, I’ve been nursing a banged up lower back. The pain’s not subsiding so I made an appointment to see an orthopedist. Let’s call him Dr. K.

I walked (slowly) into Dr. K’s practice at 9am on Tuesday morning. The office was packed. I filled out the new patient paperwork and took a seat to wait. When they called my name about 20 minutes later, a man in scrubs immediately ushered me back to their x-ray area. When I explained that I’d already had x-rays, had them faxed down from DC, and they should be in my chart, he looked baffled. He called for the Physician’s Assistant – let’s call her C – and then insisted I sit in the x-ray waiting area which looked remarkably similar to the waiting area at the DMV.

When C showed up with my chart, she asked what the problem was. I explained that I had already had x-rays, and they had been faxed to the office the day before.

“Didn’t you get them?” I asked.

“No,” C replied. Then she opened my chart, and the packet of papers from Sibley was sitting right on top.

Now we speed ahead a bit. I see Dr. K. He sends me for an MRI. I get to the MRI facility (owned by the same orthopedic center), and the woman there recommends I make an appointment to see Dr. K the following afternoon since my file has been labeled “stat” and my results will be ready asap. I do. For 2:45pm on Wednesday. It’s Dr. K’s last available appointment.

2:40pm on Wednesday, I show up to see Dr. K with the MRI results. The facility gave me a CD to bring with me to my appointment. After about 10 minutes of waiting, the receptionist – let’s call her F – asks if I have my MRI report. I tell her I have the CD, yes. She says no, the doctor needs the MRI report and that takes 3-4 days. I ask why Dr. K can’t just look at the MRI images on the CD, but all F can say is that he needs the report. So F calls our friend C and asks if she has the report. She allegedly goes to look and comes back saying it’s not in the system. F tells us to make an appointment for Friday and come back. She also gives us the number to call the MRI center to check on the progress of the report.

As we leave Dr. K’s office, my Mom stops in the hallway and takes out her phone. She calls the MRI facility and speaks to the guy in charge of reports whom we shall call L. L tells my Mom my report was, in fact, labeled “stat” and was faxed over to the Dr.’s office about 45 minutes prior. With this new information, we head back into Dr. K’s office, and that’s when things get ugly.

Mom and I have a little chat with F who calls back C. C insists there is no report but says she will look again. Sure enough, the report turns up, and C plops it down on my chart. At the same time she says, “The doctor is gone for the day. You can come back and see him tomorrow.”

It’s now about 3:05pm and my appointment was for 2:45pm.

Knowing C’s track record at this point, we refuse to back down. We know he hasn’t left yet.

Mom: “I know he’s still here. That’s absurd. Our appointment was for 2:45pm. If he had to leave, why wouldn’t someone come to the waiting area and explain that as opposed to just having us sit around?”

C: “He had emergency surgery. Someone is on the operating table. He had to go”

Mom: “Then again, why didn’t someone come explain that to us? If it were true, how long were you going to let us sit before telling us he wasn’t here?”

C clams up. “Well,” she continues, “You can come see him tomorrow.”

Mom: “Do you have a supervisor? I’d like to speak with her please.”

C does some whispering with F: “He’s still here. He will see you.”

Then F stands up, puts a stack of pictures of wedding dresses in a manilla folder (the day before, I’d overheard the front desk staff joking with F about her wedding), grabs her things, and leaves. Nothing has been resolved, but she has chosen to dismiss herself from the scene. It’s at that point a third woman steps in and demands my co-pay.

Knowing there shouldn’t be a co-pay for this kind of follow-up but not wanting to argue further, I hand over my credit card. Then we wait some more. If Dr. K is in such a hurry to get to a patient on the operating table, there’s certainly no evidence to support that.

Meanwhile, Mom sneaks a peek at the MRI report and sees it was faxed over at 14:34. That’s 2:34pm. My appointment was for 2:45pm meaning the report had been there the whole time. No one had bothered to look.

After Dr. K sees me, scans the report, never looks at the CD, declares nothing’s broken, and writes me a prescription for his center’s physical therapy facility, Mom and I go hunt down the office manager – C’s supervisor. We explain what went down, and she makes three standout comments:

1. C’s a problem, and we know it, but she’s Dr. G’s assistant (another doc), and she keeps him from blowing up at patients (no joke) so we keep her around.

and

2. The MRI facility should have told us your report was here because we get lots of reports, and we can’t be bothered to check all the time.

and

3. We have plenty of patients so while you seem like lovely people, we don’t need your business so if you never come back, it’s no biggie for us.

Tell me again we don’t have a problem with our money-driven health care system. Tell me how you fear reform will make you feel like a number and not a person. Newsflash: You are a number. Lots of numbers. Dollar signs.

2 thoughts on “Patients but No Virtue”

  1. This is so typical of the medical community. I think there are a lot of competent doctors. But the system is so filled with a lack of care.

    As someone who has had cancer, back surgery and a potpourri of other ailments, I could give you enough material along the lines you just posted to fill a Moby Dick-sized book.

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