Friday, February 2, 2024

Insight: A medical pair o’ docs

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I’m certainly not going to knock the medical profession as I have been given extended time on earth thanks to the knowledge and expertise of some of the finest physicians, technicians, and nurses around. But I am beginning to think my current medical provider has other priorities right now.

Last year in January, I met with a physician’s assistant for my annual medical checkup, and it was a highly informative visit. She told me that I was going to be her last patient ever at that facility. She said she enjoyed working there but told me that she had accepted another job closer to her home that didn’t require her to drive for more than an hour to get to her job each day. I really liked her because she took the time to listen to my medical concerns and I never felt like I was part of a production assembly line limited to five minutes of her time per visit and then ushered out the door.

Her departure meant that for the fifth time in seven years, my next appointment would be with a different primary medical provider at that facility. Before leaving the office that day, I was assigned a new primary care provider, and an appointment was scheduled for Jan. 9, 2024 for my annual medical checkup and a blood draw for physician review.

On the morning of Jan. 9, I got up early and made my way to my two appointments. I told the receptionist I was there for my blood draw at 9:30 and would follow that up with my annual checkup appointment with my primary care physician at 9:45 a.m. She instructed me to have a seat in the waiting room and gave me four or five papers to fill out regarding my current health and family medical history.

After a short wait, I was called in for my blood work by the lab technician and when finished, she instructed me to return to the waiting room for my appointment with the doctor. I sat there for the next hour waiting for my appointment when the receptionist summoned me to the front desk and informed me that she had neglected to sign me in on the computer for the doctor appointment and the physician had moved on to seeing other patients.

I then asked when the next available appointment was, and the receptionist told me that she could schedule me for another appointment in two weeks, as the physician was booked solid until then. I agreed and was scheduled once more for a 9:45 a.m. appointment on Jan. 23.

But on the morning of Jan. 22, I received an automated phone call informing me that my physician would not be available on Jan. 23 and that I would have to schedule yet another appointment.

Later that day, I called the medical facility to reschedule my appointment and was told that all the appointments with my physician were booked out through May and I could schedule an appointment with her in May or a sooner appointment could be scheduled with another doctor before then. Since this other doctor had treated my wife previously and I had accompanied her to the appointment with him earlier in January, I had a favorable impression of him and scheduled an appointment with him for Feb. 9.

All of this is a far cry from the medical care available when I was growing up in the 1960s. I can recall once when I was suffering from the flu, my mother called my pediatrician, Dr. Lucy White, and she came to our home and visited me within an hour of that initial telephone call. She sat at my bedside and when she got up to leave, she reached into her black medical bag and gave my mother three pills to reduce my fever and help me feel better. In this new day and age of managed healthcare providers and health insurance, I think it’s a safe assumption that physicians no longer make home visits like that anymore.

I also remember my father calling a doctor in town several days before I left home to attend college in 1971. As part of the enrollment process, my college required vaccinations for measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. The doctor told my father to drive me to his office that afternoon, and he would provide the shots I needed.

We drove there and found that his “office” was an enclosed front porch to his home, and he was waiting there to see us when we arrived. The doctor gave me the four shots I needed and wrote out by hand a slip of paper for me to hand in during the college registration process. Before we left, my father gave the doctor $10 cash for four vaccinations and $5 for his time. Again, I highly doubt any scenario like this would be possible in 2024.

My takeaway from this is that physicians nowadays are pressured to see a growing number of patients, who are waiting longer than ever to see their doctor for an appointment. Our physicians no longer have adequate time to see patients and offer thoughtful care.

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