Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What if?

The whole city of DC seems to be engaged in the health care debate. You hear about universal health insurance, cost effectiveness, need based treatment, private pay, single pay... AD NAUSEUM! I am already weary of it and we're only at the beginning. If I as a private citizen and health care consumer am already weary of it, what must those on the front lines of the battle be thinking and feeling.

With all this talk of universal coverage and need based treatment and such, something really important is being overlooked: the basic customer service aspect of the health care industry. As a person with chronic health problems, I consider myself a pretty good judge of good customer service in a medical setting. It begins with your first phone call to the provider's office, not with the time you spend with the doctor.

Until the first of May, Tony & I were covered under COBRA. We were paying $1000 a month. Yes, that is one thousand dollars for very excellent coverage for two adults, one reasonably healthy (Tony) and the other an insurance company's nightmare (me). The most important coverage we had was our prescription drug coverage. I did find replacement coverage, but it is a huge hassle to switch everyone's information - have to call the pharmacy, the different doctors' offices and so on. My GP's office did not receive my information for reasons we will get to later. Suffice to say that since Friday of last week, I have been trying to get my four regular scripts established with the new insurance and making sure that Walgreen's had all the information they needed as well.

It is now Wednesday. As of 3pm today things were still not resolved and I had run out of my emergency supply. So, I called my doctor's office for the FIFTH time this week (not to mention the 3 times on Friday). No one seemed to be answering the phone or returning calls left in the voice mail or anything helpful like that. I had reached the end of my patience with everyone involved. So, I decided that I should try to call one more time before just showing up on their doorstep to wait until the situation was resolved.

I didn't feel well and was really cranky by the time I managed to FINALLY get someone on the phone at the GP's office. It went something like this:

Ring riiinnnngggg ringgggggggg (as the phone rang for six consecutive times, I managed to compose myself and decided to be perfectly pleasant towards whomever happened to answer the phone) RIIINNNNGGGGGGGG!!

Finally, a human voice on the other end.

Recptionist: "Hello, Dr. ---'s Office."

Me: "Hello, this is Melissa and I've been trying to reach someone there about the change in my insurance and getting all of my scripts properly transferred."

R: "AND? We're busy here. Send us a fax."

Me: "Ma'am, I did send you a fax. I faxed you, the insurance company faxed you and the pharmacy faxed you. I also left several messages and those calls were not returned, either."

R: "Oh, well...maybe our fax machine is broken. Let me check....yeah, it's broken and has been for about a week."

(picture the color in my cheeks beginning to rise and my voice becoming tight while still being polite)

Me: "I have also left several messages in the voice mail and no one has called me back."

R: "Returning calls is not my responsibility."

Me: Anyway, I am out of meds that I need on a daily basis and the insurance company isn't going to cover them until they receive signed paperwork from your office."

R: "AND?! Well, the answer is simple. Go to the pharmacy and pay for them out of pocket. This is so not my problem."

When I proceded to explain to her that I couldn't afford them out of pocket, she hung up on me. I called back and spoke to a supervisor. I was in tears by this point.

Finally, after threatening to call the doctor at home (I knew how to find him through another doctor friend), the proper paperwork was magically faxed, signed and then refaxed to all the appropriate places.

It wasn't the lack of efficiency of the office. It wasn't the broken fax machine. It wasn't the frustration of the pharmacist who was trying her best to be helpful.

The thing about the situation that nearly broke my spirit was the lack of compassion and the plain old bad customer service. All I wanted was someone to listen to care about my problem... to do their job and fix the problem. Was that too much to ask?

To me, the biggest problem in health care today isn't the lack of coverage or availability of care but a lack of empathy and compassion. Doctors can do great things because of their great skills. But, if their staff is rude or unempathetic it ruins the whole experience. How would the woman who was so hateful to me on the phone feel if the roles had been reversed?

The next time you are in a position to serve someone, ask yourself how you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. Ask yourself how you'd want someone you love to be treated. The answer probably won't surprise you, but the results of implementing the answer just might.


  1. Oh, I'm thinking I would have been down at the doctor's office with my boxing gloves on! How utterly inappropriate! Seriously, I would have blown a gasket. My rheumatologist's staff was so helping with my Ambien nightmare last week, I couldn't believe it. Even at work, that's all we here, service, service, service. Seems to be lacking in DC. Sorry you had to deal with all that.

  2. DC isn't nearly as bad as NYC. There truly is NO customer service or work ethic there.

    I'm far too sick with an infection to take them on today so the pink tornado will have to wait until Monday to appear. That might be best. Let them think I've gone away quietly. :)

  3. As a nurse, I'm APPALLED at the treatment you received. So sad to hear that others are having similar experiences.

    And yet--even my own dr's office staff have their not so helpful moments.

    AND I am highly frustrated by attitudes of coworkers or staff in other units in the hospital where I work. I received an earful from a lady yesterday in a parking lot about what an experience she was having. Not being from the unit her fiance was a patient in, I was not able to do much besides notify my manager and hope that she would discuss it with the manager of the other area. The lady had told me she was taking steps to have her fiance' moved to another facility--after looking up our hospital's ratings on the internet and voicing her surprise at the treatment they had received. I don't blame her, but it really upset me because I try very hard to help my patients and their families. SO I hopped on the phone, called my manager, who used to work in that particular unit, and I am sure at least the manager in the other unit is researching the who-what-where-why of the situation.

    Regardless of insurance/no insurance/medicare/medicaid/whatever--our responsibilities are to our PATIENTS!!!! Period. Having the government or whoever pay for the services is irrelevant, or should be. Basic customer service should be primary. Period. Shouldn't take a degree to figure that one out, but ironically enough, it seems the degreed (pedigreed?) are the ones who have the least amount of appreciation for service.

    If we had never left the servant attitude behind, I don't think the system would be in nearly the mess that it is. When money became the goal, everything changed.

    So sorry for your difficulties. Am praying for you.