Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
A friend wrote this post and the timing was perfect. It took two days for my husband to receive a prescription last week when it formerly took hours. One misplaced prescription spawned countless phone calls because the pharmacist never got the first digital request. Before the “new and improved” system—I wrote in April about NY State’s electronic prescription law–often meds were waiting for him on his return from his appointment. Thank goodness it wasn’t a life-saving medication.
Have you noticed that the support staff in many doctors’ offices seems overworked? Because they are, you may have been on the receiving end of deep sighs, harrumphs, blank stares, disconnected calls or worse. And because these things happen so frequently, I guess we have to learn to live with them. But when, within a 24-hour period, three harried-health-care-worker incidents occurred that not only inconvenienced me but also potentially put my identity, my health and my mother’s health at risk, I got angry.
The first incident involved a blood draw at a hospital that consistently earns a top ranking on the U.S. News & World Report list of top hospitals in the country. The patient who had registered with the receptionist just before me gave her a hard time about something. I wasn’t really listening but I was aware that the patient had raised her voice before storming out. I was next in line, and as I approached the check-in desk I instantly decided to be extra-nice to the receptionist, who clearly was frustrated. I made some upbeat small talk as I handed her my prescription, which was written in typical physician hieroglyphs. She narrowed her eyes and asked no one in particular, “Why can’t doctors write more clearly?!” Since she was having difficulty deciphering his handwriting, she summoned a colleague for assistance. I watched as the second set of eyes narrowed, and then a what-do-you-think-this-prescription-says guessing-game commenced. I quickly offered to call the doctor to get the definitive word about the prescription—which, of course, is what the receptionist should have done–but I was ignored. So, because I was facing a time crunch, I proceeded to the lab, had blood drawn, and then headed home. By the time I reached my house, there was a message on my answering machine from the lab manager informing me that they had not drawn enough blood because they had misinterpreted the physician’s instructions. As a result, I needed to return to the hospital. Not only was that inconvenient, it also left me wondering whether their final interpretation of the doctor’s handwriting was correct or not.
Facts? What Facts?
Later that day, I brought my elderly mother to an appointment with a pulmonologist. Although this was the first time she was seeing this doctor, he is affiliated with the aforementioned hospital, where she’d had several admissions. This facility keeps a centralized database of patient records, which is accessible to all doctors affiliated with the hospital. Because the doctor’s staff neglected to send us paperwork in advance, I spent 20 minutes entering mom’s current health data. She takes lots of prescriptions, and the dosages and names change frequently. As a result, she always carries an up-to-date list in her handbag. At the conclusion of the appointment the staff gave us a report with test results and other info. My mother glanced at it and noticed that some, but not all, of her current meds were listed, and the report included several mistakes in dosages. I knew I had not entered incorrect info on my mother’s paperwork, so I asked the receptionist how all these errors had happened. Did the old records override the new ones? Did someone choose not to enter the new info because they were too busy? I’ll never know because I didn’t receive a coherent explanation. What’s the point of providing a list of a patient’s current meds if the info isn’t entered into the patient’s records? More importantly, how can a doctor make sound recommendations to a patient if the doctor doesn’t have up-to-date facts?
The third incident occurred the next morning at a surgeon’s office. I had been there at least five times over the past four months for treatment of a complication following a procedure. At my April appointment I provided updated insurance information and watched as the receptionist photocopied my brand-new Medicare and insurance cards. By the time I arrived for my next appointment, in July, that info had vanished. There simply was no record of it. When I told the receptionist which of her colleagues had photocopied my cards, I was met with blank stares. I ask you: Where does this stuff go??? The incident was disturbing because those cards included everything needed to steal my identity. Although the receptionist reacted with a shrug of her shoulders and a “yeah, this happens every day” attitude, their carelessness was a big deal to me because it has the potential to cause significant consequences.
I get angry and concerned when mistakes are made by health care employees because there simply is no room for error in their industry. Am I unrealistic, or do I have a right to feel this way? More importantly, what can patients do to ensure that no one involved in their health care cuts corners?