Sunday, November 21, 2021

Calling Your Doctor's Office - Frustration #1

There are joys and satisfactions in the practice of medicine.  Indeed, they have sustained me for the past few decades.  I enjoy the work and I continue to be honored that my long-term patients as well as new ones place their trust in me.  Despite my best efforts to deliver perfect advice to every patient every time, I confess that I am a member of the imperfect human species.  I have reminded patients that while I try to offer sound medical advice, I am neither omniscient nor clairvoyant.   If I knew, for example, that the medicine I am prescribing wouldn’t work, or would cause you an unpleasant side effect, then I would not have prescribed it. If you become a ill a week after you have been discharged from the hospital, it does not mean that you were thrown out prematurely.   Excellent medical judgement doesn’t guarantee an excellent outcome.  Conversely, a favorable medical result may occur after mediocre medical care. 

There are also frustrations in the everyday medical world.  Assuming that you can even decode your medical bills, try rectifying an error with your insurance company.  If you didn’t have high blood pressure when you called them to inquire, you will surely have it before the end of the conversation, that is if you actually reach a living and breathing human.  When your doctor’s prescription is denied by your insurance company, does this restore your faith that the insurance company cares deeply about your health?   Have you had the experience of trying to make an appointment to see your doctor to be told he or she is booked out for months?  

I think that the most frustrating experience for patients and us in the medical universe is the labyrinthine telephonic chamber of horrors.  This dwarfs every other frustration and seems to defy any solution.  This can test the mettle of a battle-hardened Marine.  It can bring an athlete to her knees.  It can make a stoic Philistine weep.  After 30 years of medical practice, my staff and I have been unable to crack the code on this. 


Alexander Graham Bell Trying to Reach His Doctor


In each of the 3 jobs I have had as a gastroenterologist, the telephone Theater of the Absurd was there. Of course, this vexes patients who can get through several chapters of War and Peace as they are left hanging on the line.  The lucky ones will ultimately reach a helpful human.  The rest may end up being cut off or simply left dangling on hold for a few months or so.  I suspect that many patients, who hit the jackpot and reach a live human after an interminable wait, have forgotten the reason for the call – yet another frustration!

Trust me, dear patients, that this issue is just as frustrating for us.  Our phones ring constantly which forces our staff to put most of you on hold as they juggle this onslaught.  And, try managing this while they are supposed to be checking in patients, arranging diagnostic tests and responding to impatient physicians who are waving their arms at them.  Sound like fun?

The reality, at least for smaller practices, is they cannot afford to hire a team of dedicated phone answerers.  And, even if they could, would these folks have enough training to handle the calls, or would they simply route the call to another staff member?

So, now you understand better the need for the obnoxious phone menu that greets you.
‘Please listen carefully as our options have changed.’   This is a lie.  The options haven’t changed and I doubt they will. 


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