The Healthcare System Makes You Vulnerable

The doctors in America go to school for a reasonable length of time. I always joke, "like 12 years". For some, that is true. After all that schooling, they do not teach doctors and administrators on how to be customer friendly in a transparent world. They teach them to do one job: administer healthcare to those who are in need. The schooling does not put them on a pedestal or someone of a higher power. So much so they drive up costs that are now being passed on to the patients with high deductibles, high out-of-pocket maximums and high premiums.  We become so vulnerable that we just go along with anything they suggest. This is so wrong on many levels costing us and the industry millions.

If we take a trip back in time to after the Second World War, doctors made house calls, and we paid cash. We didn't have insurance to pay for those visits, but it all seemed affordable. Fast-forwarding to today, many have to take time off of work, sit in a waiting room full of sick people, nod our heads up and down for a doctor we barely know, but feel they know everything about you because you have been going to them for years. What changed?

For one, its anyone's guess that they know you personally if you live in a relatively large-sized community or city. Fat chance! Just a number for treatment plans (and co-pays!). Second, an element of entitlement has set in for the greedy providers. Why do they care if they have a waiting room full of sick people? They don't respect your time to give you a courtesy heads-up you will be waiting for 90 minutes before heading to the exam room only to wait again for another 45 minutes. Who cares… They all have dollar signs in the room. Can you say, Cha-ching!!!

Lifestyles of the rich and famous, right? No, no. They have a six-figure loan to pay off because they went to school to learn how to make us all better and live a long and healthy life to enjoy the finer fruits of what this world brings to us as God intended it to be. Maybe this is true for some.

Question: would you ever take your car in for repairs without asking about the additional items as the bill increases? Of course not. If there are things the mechanics are working on, they tend to let you know in advance of the potential work and costs. And yet the doctors feel they don't need to. Like the way it has always been, or they don't know pricing. But we are not asking either.

One day I took my kid to the Endocrinologist. They wanted to do lab work and review the results while we were there. We had gone ahead with it since we knew he needed to evaluate current labs for the situation. When the billing finally showed up, after the PPO purple unicorn discount, it was $650, just for the lab work. I called and complained because this was the doctor's office and not the ER or the hospital. They claimed it was because the doctor ordered six lab tests, and two of them are the bulk of that expense. Those two lab requests had nothing to do with the initial visit. The doctor wanted to see if something else was going on, so he ordered it. The doctor ordered it without my consent, and I had no idea what the costs were associated with those labs. It is the only industry that has this practice. This action is illegal in other industries.

Try challenging the 'status quo.' You won't get anywhere either.

I had to take all the kids to the urgent care around the holidays, over two visits. The first one had a little urgency. He had the feeling of a throat closure while fighting a cold. After talking with the doctor, they believe he may have Epiglottitis. This condition is potentially a life-threatening condition. The doctor recommended going to the emergency room right then and get an x-ray of the neck tissue to see if there is bacteria there. The ER was the only place open for an x-ray for at least the next 50 hours (over Christmas). If there was, the hospital was the only place to administer the antibiotic as an inpatient procedure.

Trying to probe for more answers, I asked if the doctor had the information I can take home to explain this to my wife and figure out what to do as a family. With a blank stare, the doctor said he had no information. I asked if he can write the condition down on paper so I can show it to my wife because I had no idea what it was, or even how to spell it. With a confused look, he mumbled, "you want me to write it down?". I responded, yes - you just said my kid might die. So I need something to explain to my wife about this condition you think he may have. I finally received a post-it note with the condition name scribbled on it.

We ended up going to the ER for the x-ray. The physician on duty kind of chuckled about us coming in. They explained that those who have the systems they come in far worse than he is; cannot walk unassisted, cannot speak in complete sentences, etc. All of which he was doing well. He ended up not having this Epiglottitis. The symptoms of the throat closure was more swelling of the throat and flu.

My point of all this is the healthcare system thinks we are naive and vulnerable. We do not challenge someone that has gone to school for '12 years'. When you do challenge them and ask questions, they give you dead stares that are like, "I cannot believe you are even asking these questions. Why can't you just listen to me? Show me some respect!".

I do respect the profession. I have close friends and family in the medical field, and they are great people (and smart!). We cannot live without them. The system has taken care of their pocketbooks and what they can do as a professional in the field. So much so that some take the system for granted. When a patient is trying to educate themselves on what action plan to take, the doctor needs to embrace this just as mechanics do when people challenge them on what needs to be worked on for the car.

There needs to be more transparency in the system. However, based on current events, the healthcare system filed a lawsuit against the federal government to block the law passed to allow more transparency. They do not want us to be more educated. Just like the politicians have more power when we are uneducated.

Don't be so vulnerable. Ask the questions. Go get second second opinions. Just because they went to school for like '12 years', it may not be the best advice for you as it would be for someone else. Take responsibility for your healthcare.

Butch Zemar -