March 17, 2017

Healthcare Service Is Sick

Healthcare Service Is Sick

Whether you’re a fan of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, or the American Heath Care Act, as House Republicans call their bill, the customer service part of healthcare has all but disappeared in this country, if my experience Monday night is any indication of what goes on in our healthcare system today.

I’m not a big personal user of healthcare services (thankfully) on a regular basis. At just shy of 60 years old, I am and have been in relatively good to excellent health my entire life (okay, maybe with the exception of a couple of extra pounds at any given time). Other than the annual visit to my primary care physician for my annual (Marcum-mandated) physical, and my every three-month dental cleaning, I almost never have a reason to go to the doctor. Monday was different.

Tracy and I had been away for the weekend, coming back to NYC late Monday afternoon. Sunday morning I woke up with a cough, sneezing, and over the course of the day, a 101 degree fever set in. Same thing when I woke up Monday morning before our flight back home. By the time we got back into the city Monday afternoon, I still had the fever and was just not feeling well. There’s a virtually brand new state-of-the-art 24-hour emergency medical center, a division of Lenox Hill Hospital, in our neighborhood, so I figured I’d stop in for a “quick” flu test just to see if, despite having gotten the flu vaccine in November, my fever, cough and sneezing was, in fact, the flu.

When I walked in at 5:45pm, there were virtually no patients in the waiting room, just two other people who, like me, didn’t seem to be severely sick or injured. A mere 20 minutes in the waiting room got me to step two, which was the triage nurse; then another 20 minutes of questions, taking vitals, etc., and on to step three, a seat in a bullpen area between triage and a treatment room. No sooner did I sit down than a nice person with a rolling computer stopped by to get my insurance info and put my $100 co-pay on my trusty credit card. Thus far, I was about 50 minutes into it.

And now the real wait began. An hour later, I was still checking my watch. Now, don’t go picturing a hectic emergency room with all kinds of trauma patients coming in one after another. It was almost 7:30pm, the place was relatively quiet and calm, and I still hadn’t been seen by a doctor. So I went up to one of the clerks and asked how much longer it might be before someone was available to see me. She was very nice, disappeared for about 20 minutes, and came back to tell me that neither she nor anyone else could estimate how long it might take for me to be seen. So at 2+ hours I had had enough, asked for a refund of my $100, which they quickly processed, and I was on my way home, still feeling rotten and with no diagnosis. My first lousy customer service experience of the night.

Without going into all the gory details, a friend of mine was nice enough to recommend a concierge doctor, who graciously agreed to see me at 9pm in his home office, just a few blocks from my apartment. Within 20 minutes my flu test results were in and, yes indeed, it was the flu. A prescription for Tamiflu in hand, I was on my way to our local Walgreens, which has a 24-hour pharmacy, arriving at 9:45pm. There were two people on line in front of me, and when it became my turn I presented the prescription and was told it would take 25 minutes to fill. Thirty-five minutes later, my name flashed and my prescription was ready, which turned out to be a pre-packaged box of 10 generic Tamiflu capsules, with a prescription label glued on. Thirty-five minutes to affix a label to a box – unbelievable!

Now, I don’t mean to complain about my personal experience, so please don’t write to tell me I’m feeling sorry for myself. I lived to tell about it, most if not all of my symptoms are gone, and I’m feeling much better, thank you! This is about the people who have to deal with our current system on a more regular basis than I do. I can only imagine what people who are sick more often than I, or who don’t have the connection or financial ability to pay for a concierge doc at a time of illness, do on a regular basis, when nothing in my Monday experience seems to show that there is a customer service model in the ER or pharmacy.

So, I’m not even going to get into whether Obamacare or Trump care is the better financial model. I just hope that whatever action our lawmakers take on healthcare, part of it is a revamp of the way people get treated, both as patients and as human beings – not just how to pay for it.