Anyone who has been to a Dr for any reason, but particularly for those of us with multiple chronic medical conditions, you know how frustrating the medical system can be. Now, this is not intended to be a “let’s bag on all Dr’s” session. There ARE some great, caring Dr’s out there and I was fortunate enough to have one of them as my PCP for over 13 years (Dr. Nathalie Majorek, take a bow!).
Where the system as a whole breaks down is when you need to see multiple providers, and the total lack of cohesive communication between them. I took it for granted that when I was referred to a specialist through my PCP, the information was immediately shared between the different providers. Through my own experiences, and that of a close family member fighting Cancer (this will be for a later episode), I was horrified to discover this was not true. This is not only mind-blowing, but extremely dangerous.
The breakdown in communication is not just limited to “provider to provider” either. When’s the last time you’ve had to contact your Primary Doctor’s office? It’s either instant voicemail, or several minutes of KENNY G! So, you leave your message and several hours later (I swear they have” Homeland Security level” monitoring devices to know the precise moment you will not be able to get your phone!) they finally call you back. PHONE TAG…YOU’RE IT! I mean, who doesn’t love a good game of phone tag, right?
O.K., so you finally get “Susie Sunshine” on the line to book your appointment. You show up 10 mins early like a good little doobie, just to wait in the uncomfortable waiting room with all the other walking germs. 30-45 mins later they call your name and you feel like you’ve won the lottery! YES! THAT’S ME! Looking around at all the other fools in the waiting room all smug, “ME! That’s right, they called ME”….maniacal laugh.
The Dr finally enters the room, looking stressed out and hurried. You go through your array of symptoms and 10 mins later, leave with a prescription or two and a referral to a specialist. Of course, you’ve forgotten the 10 questions you wanted to ask and walk away like, “OK, there’s an hour of my life I’m never getting back.”
Now you get to start this whole process over again with the specialists office. YAY!!! Call, voicemail, office calls back (when you’re in the shower), rinse and repeat.
Skipping ahead to your specialist appointment. “So, tell me what brings you here?” You go through everything again with this Dr (cuz I don’t know about you, but I absolutely LOVE repeating myself). The specialist decides you need further testing, whether it be blood testing, XRay, MRI, you get the gist.
Guess what? You get to call and make that appointment now too! Second verse, same as the first. Skipping ahead to your actually testing appointment (you’re welcome)….you’ve had your blood work done and now it’s time for the follow up. Do I really need to say what comes next? Yessssss, our favorite game….phone tag! Oh, this time it’s a REAL treat because not only does your specialist want to see you back for a follow up, but your PCP too! Are we having fun yet!?
After following up with your specialist, a month or so later you follow up with the PCP. Again, since you get the idea about call, voicemail, return voicemail, wait, wait and wait some more, I will once again skip ahead. So, you’re sitting on the exam table and the Dr walks in. “So, how did it go with the specialist”? Seriously, they didn’t forward all that info to you? My initial exam, testing, follow up…nothing???? What’s that, you would like to see the lab results? Why no, I did not bring them with me but sure, I’d be happy to contact them again (call, hold, voicemail, return voicemail….tag!).
Wouldn’t it be great if there was an “all-in-one” way to make this exhausting process easier for us? Each of your providers offices may have a patient portal where you can look at some of your medical records, you may eve be able to schedule an appointment, but they do not communicate with any of your other providers, so not much of a help…bummer!
We need a way to sign on to ONE system, be able to contact ALL our providers. I sign on, check out my PCP schedule and book it online myself (good byeeee Susie Sunshine & phone tag!). I see my specialist, who I also invite to my portal who can then *gasp* instantly update my portal with my appointment info and test results. If I have a question for any or all my providers, sign in and send a secure message (again, goodbye voicemail!).
Sound like a pipe dream? It doesn’t necessarily have to be so. Patient engagement is finally becoming the new “it thing” in social media circles. We, as patients, need to bring it into the Dr’s office as well. Dr’s are a tough group and seem resistant to anything that smacks of social media. It is up to US as patients to take charge and get all “up in their grill” about it. Start the dialogue with your Dr’s, let your voices be heard.
The Frustrated Patient.