Wednesday, August 23, 2006

When to complain: health care is a hassle

I was referred to a pulmonologist by the student health center here at school since they were prescribing me asthma meds and I hadn't had a lung function test in a while. The pulmonologist's office doesn't take phone calls from 11am to 2pm, so it took me a very long time to reach them to make an appointment, which they made for a month after that. They sent me paperwork, which I didn't fill out. I lost my wallet (actually I think I just misplaced it), so I don't have my driver's licence or insurance card. I called them about half an hour before the appointment to see if that would be a problem and to ask if I should go home to get the blank paperwork or if they could give me another packet. I was on hold for a very long time. Long enough that the question became moot. I hung up and called back. When they said "can you hold?" I said, "No, I'm on my way in, and I'm just calling let you know I'll need to get another packet of paperwork from you." She said, "I can't hear you. You're breaking up. Can you hold?" Without waiting for my answer, she put me on hold. I hung up.

OK, here I have to admit that I had done two things wrong: I didn't have my citizen card and I hadn't filled out the paperwork. I was a difficult client. Still I was really frustrated.

When I got there, I told them all I had was the cash, a single credit card and the information off my health insurance card. The receptionist made a moue. I felt like saying, don't give me that shit, just tell me straight up. I said, can you not see me? She said no, sorry. We went back and forth once and then I just left. I was so sick of that damn practice.

So I walked down the stairs (by the way, I biked to the office, albeit only 2 miles, in the 91 degree weather and then walked up and down the stairs. My asthma meds are obviously working fine. I'm not the one who wanted to see this damn pulmonologist to start with, but I need my meds, and the student health doc said they wouldn't prescribe them anymore without more info about my condition. I think this was all because he was playing some power trip on the nurse who saw me last, Alice)...

Anyway, I walked down the stairs in a huff. I've been feeling really put out by the shit I have to do during the day - it eats into my day disproportionately and I hate it. To have this huge waste of time was irritating three times over: once because I left the lab at all, twice because I was leaving for something I didn't especially want to do, and thirdly for not even getting it done. I called Health Services and told the receptionist, a wonderful wonderful woman, my whole saga while I walked my bike back toward campus. I asked her if she could please prevail on the doc at health services to just do an exam on me himself. It seems obvious to me that there is nothing scary or even interesting going on with me, pulmonarily speaking - if he agreed, I think he wouldn't have a prob continuing with the status quo prescriptions. With many kind and calming words, she put me on hold to go find a nurse, saying it was over her head, medically speaking. I started riding my bike toward campus. When the wonderful receptionist got a nurse on the phone, the nurse said she was going to call the pulmonologist's office and see what she could do. I told her if they would take me I would turn around.

I was somewhat pleased not to get another call while I was riding back to the lab. I figured that even if they did take me, I would still be pretty annoyed when I got back to the pulmonologist's office, so it would be an unpleasant visit. When I got back to the lab, I got a phone call from the university nurse. She said the pulmonologist had said it had never happened before and they could have just held my credit card. If it got to the pulmonologist, I think it means she gave them what-for. Presumably it's a good thing for your medical practice if you have a nearby university referring its well-insured students to you. It hadn't occurred to me that the institution held some clout. The university nurse got me a saturday appointment, which is great. I'm temporarily mollified. Maybe the appointment will be transformational and allow me to train much better. Yeah right.

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