Tag Archives: referrals

Don’t waste my time! (On “patient autonomy” and health insurance)

If there’s one thing that makes my blood boil, it’s having my time wasted. I only have so much, and I waste enough of it myself that I really can’t afford to lose any to others’ incompetence.

Unfortunately, one of many frustrations that come with a chronic illness is wasted time. Managing celiac disease takes a fairly large toll on your time in the form of food research and preparation—though that’s, arguably, time valuably spent rather than wasted. Far more annoying, really, is dealing with doctors.

I, for example, have an HMO (health maintenance organization) insurance plan. The main difference between that and a PPO (preferred provider organization) plan is having to be referred by a primary care physician (PCP) in order to see a specialist. Even a specialist specializing in the chronic condition I will have for the rest of my life.

Researchers have actually felt the need—and gotten funding—to study the benefits of long-term follow-up care for celiac disease patients. Turns out (surprise!) it’s good for us. (See, e.g., this article in the Canada Journal of Gastroenterology.)

Judging from that, for the rest of my life, or at least the next few years, I should see a celiac disease specialist now and again. So can’t I just have a standing referral?

No.

Instead, before I can see my gastroenterologist to try to find out why I still feel crappy after over a year of being as carefully gluten-free as can be, I have to:

  1. call my PCP’s office
  2. wait on hold
  3. talk with a receptionist who seems determined not to understand what I’m asking for or help me to get it
  4. wait nearly a week for a return phone call
  5. follow up myself
  6. learn they need me to supply the doctor’s ID number (whether they were planning to ever, oh, call me for that information, or why they couldn’t ask me for it the first time I called, I do not know)
  7. tell them the ID number
  8. be advised to see my primary care doctor about whether I need to see the specialist
  9. snap that I have a chronic condition that my doctor already knows about
  10. feel bad for losing my temper
  11. agree to wait several days more for them to put through the referral
  12. and then and only then, finally, make the appointment with the specialist I already saw a year ago, who we all know I need to see.

I understand Oxford wants me to get referrals rather than run around willy-nilly to specialists and expect insurance to pay for it. They don’t trust me to know who to see, and why should they? Most people are idiots, and I haven’t proven to them that I’m not.

But wouldn’t it be nice if I could?

Look, I’ve been SAT tutoring for a while now, and if there’s one thing SAT tutoring will do, it’s turn everyone involved off of standardized tests. But some tests are necessary proving grounds or barriers to entry. No one wants people behind the wheel who haven’t passed a driving test, right?

So what if there were a test for basic medical common sense? Since “the prevailing ethical mantra in medicine” is supposedly patient autonomy (scoff), we could call it the PAT (Patient Autonomy Test). Those who passed could be trusted to refer themselves to specialists.

Insurance companies should be on board with this—after all, if I wind up needing to see a specialist, they lose money by making me see another doctor first to get the go-ahead. With the PAT, we all save money (and time).

Questions might include:

What kind of doctor should you see if you have a lifelong disease primarily affecting your gastrointestinal tract?

a) a gastroenterologist
b) a podiatrist
c) a cardiologist
d) none of the above

In your opinion, specialists and specialized medical tests and procedures are:

a) fun toys to enjoy at a whim
b) resources to turn to under specific, necessary circumstances
c) both

Are you:

a) a child
b) an adult capable of rational thought
c) a complete idiot
d) really struggling with these test questions

A quick reading comprehension portion on a passage describing recommended follow-up care for a specific condition could come next. And then a section on triangles, because—as my SAT students could tell you—that’s stuff we all really need to know.

bubbling an answer on standardized test with pencil

Don’t make any stray marks, now.
Photo © biologycorner | Flickr

What time wasters get your blood pressure up? And do you daydream about patient autonomy, too?

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When is your health like a plugin? – On diagnosis, technical difficulties, and Band-Aids

Is there anything more annoying than technical difficulties? Technology is meant to quietly smooth the course of our daily existence; it’s a fact of life that we take for granted—even ignore entirely—until it starts to go wrong.

Well, maybe one thing: health problems. A healthy body is similar to working technology: it’s a neutral backdrop to our activities, a nonintrusive vessel for our thoughts and cares and aspirations. No one rejoices in their eyesight till they start to lose it. No one revels in their ability to sleep until insomnia strikes. No one praises their guts for breaking down food until the guts themselves break down. I certainly never realized how healthy I was until, one day, I wasn’t.

Once difficulties begin—with our technology or our health—we realize how essential its function was to our former happiness. And so begins the search for solutions. Step one? Diagnosis.

laptop keyboard and stethoscope

What seems to be the problem?
Photo © jfcherry | Flickr

The first definition of diagnosis, according to good ole Merriam & Webster, is “the art or act of identifying a disease from its signs and symptoms” (and for a good read on the “art” of diagnosis, I highly recommend Every Patient Tells a Story, by Lisa Sanders). But the third definition, “investigation or analysis of the cause or nature of a condition, situation, or problem,” is applicable to technology. That’s why you’ll hear IT people toss around the terrifying phrase “running diagnostics.”

Over the Christmas break, I moved my little baby gluten blog from WordPress.com to a self-hosted site, with some pro bono help from my computer-programming big brother. Although I like the freedom that gives me to, oh, throw affiliate links at you (not that I have, yet), there’ve been growing pains: I’ve had to diagnose and fix several technical issues since the transition.

With a self-hosted blog, you’re the one responsible when problems strike. You’re the patient and the primary care physician. Unfortunately, in my case, you’re a rather bumbling one who looks everything up on Google. The most you can hope for is to pinpoint the general source of the problem and refer yourself to the right specialists.

My latest “symptom,” as some of you are aware, arose this week. Several of my old posts—from June, September, and October 2013—were resent to my subscribers. Everyone who said anything about it was very nice—thank you!—but I felt bad about the spam.

Putting on my doctor hat (is that a thing?), I determined the problem was with Jetpack, the plugin that brought all my old subscribers to my new site without their having to resubscribe, which has been overall handy. A “Happiness Engineer” from their support team let me know they were looking into the problem. In the meantime, I could stop the emails by deactivating the plugin.

band-aid on finger, laptop trackpad

I’m also familiar with real Band-aids on my real fingers. I should not be allowed near sharp kitchen implements.
Photo © Tony Kwintera | Flickr

This type of solution—“We don’t know what’s wrong, but here’s a Band-Aid to get you by”—is depressingly familiar to me from my years with a diagnosis of IBS and, unfortunately, continues to be familiar. “Issues that haven’t gone away after nearly a year gluten-free could be connected with celiac disease; they don’t seem to be connected with anything else; and it might help if I try . . .,” etc.

I obediently applied my blog Band-Aid and emailed subscribers that the problem was fixed. Almost immediately, of course, the “deactivated” plugin emailed out yet another post (the robots really are coming for us). That’s familiar, too. Band-Aid remedies don’t work when there’s a deeper, undiagnosed problem.

Eventually, I received another email from Jetpack: “We’ve now fixed the issue. . . . Sorry again for the inconvenience.” Why it’s fixed, or what went wrong in the first place, I can’t say. My blog doctor clearly subscribes to Sigmund Freud’s belief that “The doctor should be opaque to his patients and, like a mirror, should show them nothing but what is shown to him.”

(Note: the word diagnosis derives from diagnoskein, meaning “to know thoroughly.” Generally it’s not just the doctor who gets to know. But Freud’s been wrong before.)

Lego doctor with laptop

The blog doctor will see you now (but you won’t see him).
Photo © Jay Reed | Flickr

Opacity aside, a diagnosis was apparently made, because the fix is in. Subscribers should—fingers crossed—be able to expect no more unwanted emails from my blog (which is why you should subscribe now, if you haven’t yet!).

Granted, if we sustain the health analogy, this is a bit like saying, “The doctors say I won’t keep projectile vomiting at random times without any warning, so you should be able to sit with me at lunch,” but once we’re discussing vomit I’d say it’s time to drop the metaphor, wouldn’t you?

Tell me—which do you find more frustrating: diagnosing health problems, or diagnosing technical problems? Do you find people take their good health for granted? And what’s all this about doctors being mirrors?

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