Helping a patient is more important than following a policy


Pretend you’re a 30-year-old woman who’s 34 weeks pregnant. You develop a cough while cleaning a dusty room. You put up with it for several days. After a week you realize the cough has kept you from sleeping and is creating pain in your rib cage. Time, you think, for medical attention.

That should be an easy thing to do. After all, you have health insurance, and you’re articulate and assertive. Your obstetrician is on vacation, so you see a physician assistant in a drop-in clinic. He suggests you take an over-the-counter cough medicine and Tylenol. You do that, but after two more days of zero relief, you realize you need stronger medications to quell the cough and treat the pain. But you don’t know how your baby will be affected by more potent drugs.

You call the obstetrician who’s filling in for your own. He says that you’d be a new patient to him so he’d need to make you a regular appointment, say a week or two from now. Failing that, he suggests you go the local hospital’s emergency department. You’re aware that the practice there will be to send you to the OB department first to make sure the baby is OK, and then return you to the ED. That would cost you hundreds of dollars, and you feel it probably isn’t necessary anyway.

At this point, you want to run down the middle of Healthcare Avenue screaming, “Help! Help! Is there a human being out there who thinks helping a patient is more important than following a policy?”

When you phone another drop-in clinic and ask to speak with a doctor, the receptionist tells you the doc is busy and probably won’t have time to call you back. Ten minutes later, though, he calls and says he’d be happy to see you.

The doc spends almost an hour with you. He takes a thorough history, examines you, answers your questions, and writes prescriptions for a baby-safe cough suppressant and pain killer. You leave, reflecting that this doc was personal and caring. You experienced genuine health care.

So the next time you’re sick and find yourself boiling with frustration after filling out forms, waiting, and finally being told your insurance is good only two states away, you, too, will probably feel like running down Healthcare Avenue yelling, “Help! Help! Is there a human being out there who thinks helping a patient is more important than following a policy?”

I’ll bet you’ll find one. No matter how cold and corporate health care is, it will always be composed of human beings. Including some who truly care.

Jeff Kane is a physician and is the author of Healing Healthcare: How Doctors and Patients Can Heal Our Sick System.

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