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Glass Half Full
with Jessica Loftus, Ph.D.

Surviving Healthcare in the United States


In 2017, as Congress was attempting to fix the problems with our national health care system, one person attempted to fix some medical problems of his own. During his frustrating encounters with eleven different doctors (most of whom were specialists), he received an enlightening education on the myriad of flaws with the state of health care in the United States.

Guest post by Jack Murray

The odyssey of fun with any doctor begins with the process of scheduling an appointment. After wading through an elaborate phone tree that never has the option I want, I press zero hoping to reach a human voice. While trying to ignore the irritating hold muzak, I eagerly await the possibility of actually speaking to someone. Unfortunately, 10 minutes pass before I finally hear a recorded message that someone will call me back. Invariably, that someone calls me back when I am in the bathroom, causing me to miss the call by seconds. Quickly, I dial the phone number left on my voice-mail message only to encounter the same phone tree again. Too tired to fight with a long, recorded message, I opt to try again the next day.

Runaround

The next day’s efforts are a bit more fruitful because I decide to carry my phone with me everywhere I go, including the bathroom. Success! A human voice informs me that they must review my insurance plan before I can schedule an appointment. Thankfully, I have good insurance, so I hear back within a few hours, right before my next trip to the bathroom. The first available appointment is four weeks away at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Of course, I need to arrive 15 minutes early to complete an entire ream of paperwork.

Upon arriving at the doctor’s office a half-hour early, I wonder how anyone could finish all this paperwork in 15 minutes. As I hand the completed forms to the receptionist, I observe a sign that reads, “If you are over 15 minutes late for your appointment, you must reschedule a new appointment on a different day.” Wishfully, I interpret this to mean the doctor will see me within 15 minutes, but of course, that does not happen. So, I wait and wait until the nurse calls my name. The annoying children in the waiting room are a distraction to the TV droning a boring talk show in the background.

A nurse finally calls me, leads me into an exam room, and asks me to change into a hospital gown that leaves my backside almost entirely exposed. That’s when the real wait begins. And so do the worries. How am I going the pay for this? Will this hurt? What tests will the doctor order? Will I get out of here in time for my next doctor’s appointment?

Finally, the doctor knocks, opens the door, and coldly asks “What are you coming in for?” After a long pause, I reply “Hmmm I don’t really know why I am here. My primary doctor referred me. I think it has something to do with some lab work I had done during a recent hospitalization.” Thankfully, my wife, who brought copies of the lab results, hands them to the doctor.

The doctor writes notes about my symptoms as he occasionally insults my lack of medical knowledge. He doesn’t seem too clear about why I am even there to begin with. The appointment concludes with the doctor ordering some lab tests at the local hospital. He assures me his orders will be faxed to the hospital by the next day.

More Runaround

The next day, I call the scheduling office at the hospital only to hear another voicemail message saying they will call back within 24 hours. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. After I leave one or two more messages, they finally call back. However, they inform me that they don’t have a doctor’s order on file to do the lab tests. Then they recommend that I call the doctor’s office to ask them to fax an order.

Once again, I’m wading through a phone tree, only to get a voice mail message stating someone will call back. Now I have gotten a little smarter; I recently installed a cordless phone in the bathroom just in case –along with a pad of paper and a pencil. Remember, I’m dealing with 11 doctors here.

The doctor’s office finally calls me back and after arguing that I don’t need an order for that particular test, I insist the hospital says I do, so they reluctantly agree to fax one. The next morning at 8 a.m., it’s back to the labs. This time I have the ordering doctor’s phone number just in case. Miracles do happen – sometimes things go as planned. The order was received, and the lab tests were done quickly and easily.

Weeks later, it’s back to the doctor’s exam room again (after another lengthy wait), the doctor reproaches me for not getting his ordered lab work done. After assuring him that I did, he leaves the exam room and returns 15 minutes later – with my lab results. Then he begins to discuss my case but quickly turns the subject to the prestigious people he studied under at medical school. My wife and I politely indulge his bragging, hoping he will soon reveal my lab results.

Finally, he does. He tells me I won’t need a scary, invasive test because of the lab findings. This comes as a big relief, as I am highly phobic of certain medical procedures.

Results

Ultimately, he’s not too sure what’s wrong with me; he offers a few possible diagnoses, one of which is terminal with no treatment options. And, he prescribes a medication to add to the several I am already taking. Then it’s another trip to the pharmacy and a whopping charge for the prescription, which includes a long description of the medication’s awful side effects. This is quite unsettling because I’m am not too sure how this medicine is supposed to help me in the first place.

After months of doctor exams, lab tests and follow-up appointments, here are the typical fruits of my efforts.

  1. The doctor does nothing.
  2. The doctor prescribes a medication that does nothing.
  3. The doctor refers me to another specialist who does nothing.
  4. Worse than nothing, the doctor prescribes medicine with horrible side effects.

Frustrated with the lack of results from seeing conventional doctors, my wife talks me into going to see a holistic doctor who specializes in something akin to Chinese herbal medicine. I reluctantly give it a try just to keep the peace and avoid an argument.

Hope?

Chinese herbal medicine? Now my wife has gone too far. She has pushed me into the world of totally weird. We sit not quite as long in this waiting room until an assistant takes us back for an exam.

I stifle a laugh and roll my eyes when the holistic doctor pushes down on my arm to determine what types of herbal supplements I would need as my treatment. Glaring at my wife, I wonder what kind of quackery is this. Under my breath, I call him a “witch doctor.” as I ponder how much this waste of time is going to cost.

Then the witch doctor measures my so-called energy field. He calls over his assistant and they stretch their arms wide next to me. The first time he proclaims my energy field was four feet in front of me, two feet in back and nothing on my side. I don’t know what is funnier, this test or the one in which he pushed down on my arm.

Fortunately, the witch doctor’s supplements aren’t too expensive, and I take them only to prove to my wife how crazy all this is. However, after a week on the supplements, I notice that several of my symptoms have improved noticeably. Other people notice positive changes in me as well.

Finally, a Solution

I hate to admit this to my wife or anyone else, but the supplements the witch doctor recommended as a result of his strange tests did more to improve my symptoms than any of the medications that all the other doctors prescribed – with no side effects.

I return to the witch doctor with a little less skepticism, and ask him, “What is wrong with me?” Finally, a concrete diagnosis – I have too much stress! I wonder how much of this stress was simply the result of all this run around with all these doctors.  Based on my history of symptoms, my stress levels were so high that they were damaging my adrenal and pituitary glands for years. Over time, my body and brain just gave out.

So, I started seeing a helpful counselor who taught me many strategies to reduce my stress, including tapping various points on my face – after the witch doctor, I am up for anything.  She also tells me that I need to address painful stuff from my past and stop worrying so much. That’s a whole other story.

Questions

Here are critical questions related to our national health care system. Why didn’t any of these 11 doctors tell me I had too much stress to begin with? Why did it take six months of doctor appointments, dozens of lab tests, hundreds of dollars of worthless prescriptions, thousands of dollars of out-of-pocket expenses, tens of thousands of dollars in insurance-paid expenses, not to mention all the hours spent wading through phone trees and waiting in doctors’ offices to get nowhere?

Perhaps this is a bit naïve, but maybe if our doctors spent a little more time listening to their patients, and a little less time prescribing tests and medications, our health care system would be far more effective and efficient.  Maybe if our doctors’ offices utilized more personal contact and less automated communication, we would avoid unnecessary trips to doctors’ offices in the first place. And maybe, if we as patients were a little more open-minded to lifestyle changes and alternative medical practices, we all might be better off physically, emotionally and financially.

 

Image is under license from Shutterstock.com

Surviving Healthcare in the United States


Jessica Loftus

Jessica Loftus has worked as a licensed clinical psychologist and national certified career counselor for more than 20 years. She currently offers counseling sessions via telehealth in Illinois. Her website, easywaystoeasestress.com, outlines steps for making a career decision. details. See her retired blog, "Pet Ways to Ease Stress,"


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APA Reference
Loftus, J. (2020). Surviving Healthcare in the United States. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/half-full/2020/05/surviving-healthcare-in-the-united-states/

 

Last updated: 30 Jul 2020
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.