Doctors aren’t so great

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 20, 2003

Recently, I had the misfortune of catching the cold bug circulating town. As a result, I had, what I felt sure, had developed into a double-ear infection and bronchitis. Perhaps it was the persistent cough and rattling of my chest that finally moved me to seek medical advice. Or, perhaps it was the fact every time I spoke I had to ask a co-worker if I was talking too loudly, as I could not hear my own words. To me, everyone sounded like an incoming phone call from a Peanuts’ cartoon: wanwawawanwannwwanwanwnwa.

I called the number of my assigned physician on the back of my insurance card and quickly learned it would be three weeks before I could get an appointment.

Desperate, for legal drugs and general nasal relief, I asked if I could walk-in during urgent care hours.

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However, having been a new patient and never seen by this practice – the answer was no. Frustrated by the underwhelming response I got from my doctor’s office, I called the customer service number on my insurance card to determine if I could seek alternative medical advice. After answering a series of questions, (making myself sound as though I was on death’s door) and basically agreeing to give the insurance company my first-born child – I was granted the privilege of going to a Chesapeake urgent care center.

I arrived at the medical center at 4:45 p.m. I can tell you one thing for certain, if you weren’t sick when you arrived – you were sure going to be sick when you left. Red faces and runny noses filled the room. I resigned myself to the fact there would be a long wait before I would see the doctor. Who knew I would end up waiting so long I would leave with waffle impressions on my butt. At the one-hour mark I was tempted to leave – but I thought, &uot;well you’ve come this far – might as well stay now,&uot; so I did. After a great deal more waiting, I was invited to the registration desk to complete my paperwork.

By 8 p.m. (three hours and fifteen minutes into &uot;the wait&uot;) I was called back to the nurse and she proceeded to run through all the standard annoyances we have all grown accustomed to dealing with at a doctor’s visit.

I don’t mind the temperature taking and the blood pressure readings, but I am always particularly relieved when they are too busy to take my weight. It’s not that my weight reading will be any great shock (I know what it is). But, I always dread the look of shame I get from the nurse when I tell her I believe the four basic food groups consist of chocolate, butter (and all vehicles for butter such as grits, rolls and potatoes), cheese, and finally – the most important food group …Diet Coke. Yes, I get the irony of the Diet Coke – but psychologically I think it helps &uot;offset&uot; the calories from my daily butter intake (at least that’s what I tell myself). So, as I had hoped, they were too busy to do the &uot;height/weight thing&uot; and thus I avoided the walk of shame from the scales to the examination room! YES! I thought to myself.

After another 45 minutes of waiting I finally got to see the doctor. He entered the room, said something I didn’t understand, and proceeded to examine me for all of 30 seconds. He quickly scribbled a prescription for a sulfur-based antibiotic (to which I am violently allergic) and after I questioned him about it (since it is the only occasion I get to use my five years of Latin training), the Doctor become quite defensive with me and stated I had not taken the time to write the information on my form. I told him I did in fact write it on my form and made a point tell the nurse as well. The Doctor said, &uot;You are Jane Doe, aren’t you?&uot; I said, &uot;No, I am Rebecca Hill.&uot; With that, he left the room in a fluster and did not return. Sometime later, the nurse came in with two prescriptions and told me I could leave.

I never learned what exactly was wrong with me and I had no further dialog with the doctor. At this point, I had waited fours hours for 30 seconds of professional medical advice.

Maybe it’s me and my unreasonably high expectations, but for crying out loud! Is this the best they can do? If this is the treatment regular, hard working, somewhat middle class, insurance card carrying folks get – I hate to imagine the substandard treatment less fortunate folks are receiving. I would categorize this treatment as something you would see on a bad episode of &uot;Strong Medicine.&uot;

When I go see a doctor, I expect them to know who I am, determine what is wrong, tell me what to do about it, and when appropriate, give me a prescription that won’t kill me.

Perhaps I am unlike most, I do not place doctors any higher on the totem pole than I would a police office, firefighter or teacher. All of these are noble professions and I find each crucial to the success and function of our society. So, the &uot;doctor’s are so important thing&uot; does not fly with me. They have a job to do just like the rest of us. I pay them for their services.

Don’t think for a minute if your insurance covers the majority of the expense &uot;you’re not paying for it&uot; because you are. I assure you, if you receive health benefits through your employer, they are paying a pretty penny to provide that benefit to you and your family as well. If you are one of those folks who tend to ignore your medical bills and hope they go away – cut it out! Your failure to pay is causing the cost of healthcare to go up for the rest of us. As a result, health care facilities have to see a minimum of 60 patients per day, just to break even.

Does that sound ludicrous to anyone? I am not sure a single doctor can provide effective healthcare for 60 patients per day. Healthcare is big business, and like most businesses, good customer service (or in this case patient service) is crucial. No other business would have a single customer standing if a four hour wait for service, was standard. I feel certain – this is the not the best health care can do. But at least I got my drugs….

Rebecca Hill is advertising director of the Suffolk News-Herald.