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The Frustrating Business of Healthcare From A Patient’s Perspective

May 24, 2011

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Two times over the past week I have been kept waiting for more than an hour in expensive waiting rooms by healthcare professionals (don’t worry, nothing serious, just routine visits).  It is amazing how unapologetic they were about it. In one case I walked out and cancelled the appointment because this was the second time it had happened.  Even more distressing is the fact that no one ever followed up to apologize and reschedule.  And, it’s worth noting that I’m an easy-going patient.  It takes a lot to get me riled up.

My experience with dentists has become increasingly frustrating because when you do finally get to see them it feels like they have perfected the art of finding ways to increase their average transaction revenue through selling you services that are optional or unnecessary.  It all comes across as one big money grab.  It bugs me no end when professionals who are in traditional positions of trust and authority use this leverage to sell me what I don’t need.   I grew up trusting my doctor/dentist implicitly and never second guessing his motivations.  The relationship was a long-term satisfying experience.   Today I feel like I must constantly second guess medical/dental recommendations and seek out alternative opinions especially when it comes to my children.  My father could never have afforded the medical/dental bills I have to pay today.  Moreover, as an adult I’ve felt compelled to switch practitioners several times due to faulty or unhelpful work.

At what point did healthcare become less about less about what’s best for the patient and more about the business of delivering care and maximizing revenues?  It’s easy to blame the insurance companies (and they certainly deserve their share of criticism), but the profit motive is certainly alive and well with healthcare delivery professionals.  Patients are overbooked and herded through waiting rooms.  We get to spend little time with the actual doctor/dentist, and it often feels like they are seeking the shortest/easiest route to a diagnosis. Invariably tests are required, and you usually must go elsewhere to get them done.  In addition, leaving an appointment without a prescription is almost unheard of these days and it requires you to figure out the most affordable option with your pharmacist (more time and expense).  I’ve talked to elderly people who spend the better part of their days each week navigating medical/dental appointments and pharmacy visits. What a mess!

In an environment where costs are going up and people are living longer our current system is a recipe for disaster.  It is economically and logistically unsustainable.  Something must give and I worry that the burden will continue to shift to patients.  Sadly, as this happens people will need to make difficult choices about what they can afford and manage.  Ironically doctors and insurance companies will only end up losing financially in the long run.