Only Anecdotal

No numbers, just stories


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I title this entry with the English translated name of Cortázar’s fantastic Rayuela, a labyrinthine, experimental journey that has got me thinking today about making an appointment for my annual physical.

Sad, yes, I know. But it is the utter futility of it, and not the pleasure in the endeavor that is reminiscent of the novel. For I know what will happen. I will make that call, admittedly quite a bit later than I should have, and I will be told that I must wait.

The last time I saw my doctor, she scolded me for missing last year, until I explained to her what it took for me to get the appointment in the first place. Truth is, in January 2011, I had hoped to get in soon, but was scheduled for June 2011. Then, an important meeting came up, and I had to cancel a week prior, and was told that the next available was at the end of January 2012. The staff were nice enough to put me on a wait list, and one morning in September 2011, I did receive a call saying that someone had cancelled for that same day. I had to work. So, January 2012 it was.

Now, I like my doctor, and in an urgent moment (like last summer’s particularly bad reaction to poison ivy), I am always able to get in on the same day, usually within a few hours. That is great. But it is truly frustrating to hear my doctor then sigh, and tell me that as things are right now, their office could not possibly handle consistent yearly checkups for every single patient in their practice.

I am super-healthy for the most part, lucky me. But nonetheless, following up on testing from this appointment, I ended up in a sort of biopsy hell, during which–at one point–someone casually mentioned that last year they used to just watch these things. It was nothing. It scared the living daylights out of me for a good four weeks, but it was nothing.

Another recommendation, I will be far more skeptical of the necessity. What an enormous waste. I received a letter from my doctor two weeks later. Benign. Gee, thanks. Fortunately, my frantic phone calls in to the clinic had already confirmed that diagnosis.

I mention all this because I am thinking right now of how little input I had in the process, how little was explained to me, and how fear of death instilled in me a certain compliance–I did what I was told.  I believed my doctor and the medical professionals she had sent me to see, and I went along with the whole thing. Since everything was fine, I have to wonder, too, how many people had to wait longer because I was there? How much did this drive up the cost of the procedure? How crucial was it, in fact, that the condition be caught so early in the game? Would it truly have made a difference?

I fortunately never paid a penny past the ten dollar co-pay for the original appointment to my doctor. I never even saw a bill. Really.

Really? I hate to think that it is cheaper to walk down the expected path, to comply, than it is to question a procedure, an expense, an unwarranted fear, a stupid blip on a screen.

And then, what if it had been something? Would I ever be limited financially in the choices I have by my willingness to go along with the protocol? If I fell ill, and short-term rehabilitation in a skilled nursing facility was recommended, would I really be a fool to insist on going home? If I knew my own bad reaction to a certain medication, would I be charged more for requesting another?

I am looking more this week into the whole notion of Shared Decision Making. It has been on my radar for some time, following various discussions about it. Why, oh why, does it seem so controversial? Why is the power in the medical establishment, and not in the hands of consumers themselves?

It is all quite upsetting to me to think that it is so difficult to talk to the doctors we choose, when we share such intimate and important aspects of our lives with them. But it is. We do not want to offend the gatekeepers to our well being, for one thing.  For another, well, sometimes we just do not know how.

Realizing the timelines of making appointments, I had intended to settle my appointment next year as I was leaving my January checkup. Unfortunately, I could not because the computer would not allow for an appointment more than six months in advance. That means, I should have made my appointment in June, or so…

So perhaps we do know how–but have gotten the clear message that we as consumers matter very little in the equation.  No wonder we fear not being heard.


Written by Only Anecdotal

3 Sep 2012 at 10:11pm

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