Friday, September 2, 2011

The Business of Medicine

When I was a kid I was terrified to go to the doctor. My mom would inform me of an upcoming medical visit, and the first question out of my mouth was always, "Will I have to get a shot?!" More often than not, the tears had already started flowing long before we ever even got into the car.

As an adult, I still have "white coat syndrome," which basically means my blood pressure and heart rate go up and I get really nervous on the day of a doc visit. Although I still have a severe dislike for needles, my adult fears aren't usually about the possibility of an injection. My concerns now revolve around the unknown... What will happen when I get there?

My general practitioner's office is located in the small town of Ruston, where I live. I go there when I'm sick. Typically, a visit to his office is not a bad experience at all. I'm usually in and out of there within an hour, after talking with the doctor, getting whatever prescription he may have written for me, and paying. His nurses are nice, the people who answer his phones are helpful, and I am always satisfied with the experience when I leave.

That is not the case with all my medical visits.

I have been a patient of my "girl doctor" (aka OB/GYN) for 11 years. I was a patient of hers when her practice was in a smaller office with fewer doctors and a lot more chairs available in the waiting room. I like her. She is a good doctor and I never doubt her professional opinion or question her medical advice. She's funny and a Christian, too, which comforts me. So it is no surprise that she is extremely successful, and I applaud her success.

But I no longer feel satisfied with my visits to her office.

Right now I simply go to her office for annual check-ups, since at the moment (Praise God!) I appear to be healthy. And here's where the problem begins. In order to get that annual appointment I have to call the doctor's office at least 6 months in advance. This particular doctor is located in Shreveport, an hour's drive from where I live. Once I get there, I will be asked to fill out at least 5 pages of forms (which they refuse to send me in advance). I will then spend at least two hours in the jam-packed waiting room before going back to a patient room to see the doctor, where I will have to wait an additional 15-20 minutes. (I am not exaggerating at all. This has been the case three years in a row.)

And if that weren't enough, I received a letter in the mail last week telling me that instead of seeing the doctor herself, I will have to see one of her 3 physician's assistants.

Seriously?!?!

I'm trying to stay positive about the whole experience. Perhaps it's actually a blessing. Maybe I won't have to wait as long to see the PA before going back to a patient room. Maybe I'll be in and out of there in no time!

Or... maybe I should find another doctor.

See, because I have to wait a full year before being seeing my doctor (due to insurance constraints, of course... another blog for another time) I annually make a list of questions or concerns I want to discuss with her. If I call the office between visits I have to speak to a nurse, or one of the people who answers the phone. I can't email her... don't know her e-address. So even though I've waited an entire year to have a discussion with a doctor who has been cashing my checks for 11 years, I will be unable to have that conversation. Oh sure, I could talk to this physician's assistant who will be all up in my "personal business" the day of my appointment. But you know what? Even though we will be "quite close" during the course of that visit, the fact is I don't know her and she is not my DOCTOR.

I can't help but ponder when "seeing patients" became "herding cattle." It's not just my doctor; several coworkers, friends and family members have expressed the same discontent with their physicians. The problem is everywhere. I've heard doctors use the changes in insurance as an excuse for various issues within their field, but this problem has nothing to do with insurance. It has everything to do with the almighty dollar. It's about how many people they can squeeze into that office in as few hours as possible.

What it's supposed to be about is helping people, taking care of needs, and making people feel better. But I can say this with all honesty and sincerity: For the two hours I sit in that waiting room to see a person I don't know, and who knows me only as a name on a medical chart, I will NOT feel better. Instead, I will feel like a number. A big fat number with a dollar figure in front of it, with a list of unanswered questions.




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