Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More "Customer NO-Service" in Health Care

As many readers know, I have been trolling the rabbit-hole of hypothyroidism. In the past month I have been a pin-cushion for a legion of phlebotomists as I collect as much test data about myself as possible. I have already gone through two "crank turning" endocrinologists and am on my way to a third. One would think it is easy. Get your records, find a promising physician, make an appointment and voila, on we go. NOT!

The trouble all started when I went to retrieve my latest blood test results (TSH and T4) from a local clinic lab (where Endocrinologist 1 practices). I called the lab and determined the results were in. Of course, they won't give me the results and refer me to my doctor's nurse. The nurse attempts to mislead me into thinking the results aren't in. Of course, I know better and push the subject. She further argues that I need proper interpretation, diagnosis, and treatment that she cannot provide. I reply I am only interested in a number. Sorry, no can do, that's policy. So I call customer service at the clinic and they give the same inane arguments but inform me I can sign up to see all my labs online if I come down and sign up for the service (I did). Unbelievably, the nurse cannot give the info over the phone (HIPAA was not an issue), but I can see them immediately via the Internet. They finally relent and the nurse calls to give me the results. Geez, did it HAVE to be that hard? Here's the funny thing. In the interim I called the lab and asked them to fax the results to another physician. HA! They just took the fax number and sent it without even checking. I already had the results by the time the nurse called me back! Remember, there is always a way to get around bureaucrats if you are willing to think outside the box and used their allegiance to "crank turning" against them. OK, that problem is solved.

Next, I need to collect lab results from my primary care physician and Endocrinologist 2 (E2) who is part of his group. They also would not release new results to me and their group records department requires me to appear in person to sign a release. The kicker here is that they will not give me the records on the spot but will mail them to me in about one week. But, since these are somewhat older records my primary care physician's secretary agrees to mail them to me. E2's secretary is less forthcoming. She flatly refuses to send me "my file" but would release it to another physician. Finally, after arguing that I have only seen E2 a single time, that "my file" probably consists of only two sheets of paper, and that my primary care physician from her group is already sending my records she relents.

Now, armed with all my records, I try to find an endocrinologist that I think would be helpful. I first get a nice list of docs my insurance covers and select a relatively recent grad (1994) who practices at the local teaching hospital (Medical College of Wisconsin). I figure this is my best shot at finding a doc who is up to speed on the latest research and doesn't just "turn the crank." So, I call to set-up an appointment with Endocrinologist 3 (E3). Not so fast! I am rather bluntly informed that they will not set-up an appointment without a referral from my primary care physician. Further, they first must review my records and THEY will select which specialist in their group is most suited for me and set-up an appointment based on what THEY believe the severity of my problem is. Naturally, my next call is to their customer service department. I explain, for example, that I hire lawyers all the time based on MY selection criteria. I don't ask the local Sheriff for a referral to a particular group of attorneys nor do I accept whomever happens to be available that day. I wish to specifically hire one of your doctors for a consult to review my situation. Do you wish to do business with me? The nice lady said she would get back to me . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick.

Customer service? HA! Guess what pilgrims? It ain't just heart care that's screwed up. Somewhere along the line these arrogant SOBs think they are something special. They do everything they can to control information and work to keep patients from proactively becoming engaged in managing their own health care. As I have said in the past you have to take control of your health, demand good customer service, and don't take no for an answer.

Remember, stubborness can be beautiful. It can also save your life!



shreela said...

Wow, my OB/Gyn handed me my test results (bloodwork, and ultrasound) to me as I was leaving from the patient conference area.

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