Friday, January 16, 2009

Modern Medicine

I am old enough to have fond memories of doctors who made house calls, understood that paying for services could be a challenge for some folks, and who seemed to care about all aspects of the patient and even how his or her family might be fairing.

As the cliché goes, “that was then, this is now.”

My family has spent too much money and far too much time with medical folks lately, and I have to say one of my least favorite parts of modern medicine is the lengthy message that I hear each and every time I dial a doctor's number, listing various extensions for services, and almost always including this directive: “If this is an emergency, hang up and dial 911.” The last time I called my orthopedic surgeon's office and got that message I did hang up. That means I did not see the surgeon for my post op visit, which did save me a bit of cash.

Even when patients do show up, miss-communication negatively affects modern medicine. Yesterday was a classic example of this. Daughter has a rare blood disorder, and, after many several trips to Athens and vial after vial of bloodletting, she was referred to a pediatric hematologist. This experience was a mixture of “old” and “new” healthcare. When I confirmed the appointment (a new fangled notion) I was told that she could go to the lab at the hospital to speed things along, in hopes that she could make her afternoon class at college.

Upon arriving at St. Mary’s Health Care System (what is wrong with the term “hospital”?) I pulled the car into the parking deck. After a hike from there to the main information desk, we were told that we should have parked at the pediatric clinic. When asked how to get there, the elderly ladies at information advised us to get back into the car and drive to the clinic, which is housed in a doublewide trailer at the rear of the facility. After a few minutes, we found it, then circled the completely filled parking area, three times, and decided that it was probably a favorite spot since it was the only “free” parking available. Back to the deck we went, which required a longish walk back to the doublewide. As we were hoofing it around the campus, the parking valet (whose mere presence falls under new) did give much better directions than the folks at the information desk. Interestingly, there are two handy parking spots behind the hospital, labeled “Clergy,” right next to the dumpster. Neither of us were sure what message that is supposed to send.

Once inside the doublewide, we were handed orders to the lab, which is located in the hospital (opps, it is now a health care system!) As we traversed the campus yet again, I read the orders, which basically would repeat the the last test she had done, the one that sent us to the pediatric hematogist. When we got to the lab, I asked the attendant to check for the results, and sure enough, those were available. She said she would fax them to the clinic so they would be there when we got back. Then common sense set in (an old-fashioned virtue) and she handed us a copy to take with us. Thus we were off on another walk, back to the pediatric clinic. Yep, that was a lot of walking. Isn't it fortunate that neither of us is actually sick? Several of those trips could have been averted if a patient could deal with one office, but we were referred to the clinic by the surgeon, and the clinic uses St. Mary's to do lab work. Anyway, after finally completing our visit with the doctor, some two hours after we began, daughter announced that she deserved a good lunch, and I agreed.

Meanwhile, hubby visited another medical facility, a new one built away from downtown. This one stop shop has five physicians, a social worker, a lab, two financial counselors, medical assistants, a pharmacy, and numerous nurses. With such a payroll , this facility's services cost so much that hubby says it is rather like the days when doctors attached leeches to the patient. But now, with the advances in modern medicine, instead of sucking blood, they just suck the patient’s wallet dry instead.

Modern medicine can cure many physical ills, but dealing with it isn’t making me feel one bit better.

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