Patient-Centered Healthcare–NOT!

Just back from Seattle where I gave a presentation to the Northwest American Medical Writer’s Association chapter on branding and customer service. Talk about relevant! Because boy, do I have a healthcare-related customer service story to tell here.

Remember the tooth saga? About a month ago I requested that all test results from the ER and hospitalization related to that fun time be put into my electronic medical record. Why I had to request them I have no idea; they are, after all, my results, right?

In reviewing them, I noticed that three fasting blood sugars–one in the ER and two in the hospital–were very high. I’m talking diabetes high. I figured it was likely due to the infection, but I followed up with my doctor, who brought me in for a visit. He agreed they were high and ordered blood work. Then, when I reminded him that my father had died  young from pancreatic cancer, suggesting a family history, and that new-onset diabetes in someone with no risk factors could be an early sign of pancreatic cancer, and that I’d recently and unintentionally lost 25 pounds (yay!), he ordered an abdominal ultrasound.

Blood sugar came back fine. I had the ultrasound last Wednesday. My doctor received the results that afternoon. He reviewed them and signed off on them the following day. On Friday afternoon, at 4:20 pm, someone in my doctor’s office left a message on my voice mail asking me to “call the office.” I had emailed the office earlier asking about my results and never received a response. By the time I picked up this message from the west coast, it was 8 p.m. eastern time–and no one was in the office to tell me what was going on.

To say it was a stressful weekend is an understatement. Remember, I’m a medical writer. We hear zebras all the time. I was already imagining the worst, planning for how I’d work and undergo surgery and chemo, figuring out what stage I might be, reviewing national guidelines for treating pancreatic cancer. I can safely say that this weekend was among the worst two days of my life.

This morning at 8:15 I get an email telling me all results are normal.

Furious? You bet. I called the office when it opened at 9 a.m. and talked to the woman who left the message and the office manager. Neither were very apologetic, both cited “procedure” in terms of never leaving any specifics on a voice mail (despite the fact that, I’m pretty sure, my HIPAA form says messages can be left and that my husband can be informed of any medical information).

They had no good answer as to why they didn’t email me as they’d done in the past with test results; or why they didn’t call my cell–since the number is on my voice mail; or why it took them 24 hours from the time the doctor reviewed and signed off on the results to even contact me, and longer to inform me of the results.

This is a health system that prides itself on being patient centered. On providing a medical home in its primary care settings.

All I can say is that on their way to being patient centered they forgot one thing: the patient.

3 Responses to “Patient-Centered Healthcare–NOT!”

  1. Cindy

    Ah…the Friday afternoon at 4:30 PM call…I know it well. In my case, it was news of a liposarcoma. Similar experience with pulling the records out of the medical system as well. Is hope all we have for improvements?

  2. Debra Gordon

    Thank you Allison! Please send me your own experiences to share for both this blog and the book I'm writing. And please feel free to let the NYT I should write a blog for them!

  3. Alison M. Rice

    I think I am hereby giving you a new title: Medical Ombudsman (Ombudswoman? Ombudsgoddess?), since you write about all the health care experiences that we all suffer through and tell them what they could have done better. You need a blog in the NYT.


Leave a Reply