Thursday, 30 April 2015

Lesson for today: Be assertive

On Tuesday night on CBC's The National, their medical panel had a discussion entitled Health care in the online world. They talked about  doctors using email, twitter, medical apps on phones and digital  medical records. May I humbly suggest that it is all well and good to use these new tools as long as we keep in mind that it is us lowly humans who must make it all work.

Recently I changed doctors. I am very pleased that my new doctor is a lovely woman whose office is within walking distance of my home. When I left after my "meet and greet" appointment on March 5 th, I signed a form consenting to the transfer of my records from my previous doctor. That doctor's office contacted me a few days later, when they received the request. They would transfer the records after I paid them $25.00.  I gave them my MasterCard number and thought that was the end of the story. (Silly me!) Knowing that such transactions frequently take time to process, I waited and made an appointment for April 28th, to get my new doctor's opinion on my ongoing knee problem.

When I walked in, I expected my new doctor would be able to access my previous records, including the MRI that was done on my knee. No such luck!  The answers to all my doctor's questions -  dates and results of my tests -  were in my hard copies which I had left at home because I had trusted that the transfer had been done. My new doc said she would have her staff double check the next morning and I was asked to call my old doc to see if they had actually sent them.

So the following morning I called the new doctor's secretary. No, they were sure they had never received them. I called the old doctor's office. Now these are the people who charged $25.00 to my MC on March 12th.  I politely enquired whether or not my records had been sent out. They sent the records out on March 13th! The secretary at the old office said she would call the new office. The records had been sent out on an encrypted disc and the password had been sent in a separate email.

After another couple of calls, the secretary at the new office confirmed that yes, they did receive the records a while back, but it was an unusual format and she had never figured it out. Now, however, she had the records and would make sure that my new doctor saw my file.

So, my lesson: Do not rely on technology. It is only as good as the people that use it. Do not assume that an electronic message or task has been done. I should have called to ensure that my records had been received.

Now my daughter Norah, who is way smarter than me, already knows this. Recently, on a Monday, a doctor told her that she would request a test at a hospital. There would be a long waiting period for the test. The next day Norah called the hospital to see if they had received the requisition from her doctor's office. No they hadn't. She called again on Wed and received the same answer. So she called her doc and was told it had been sent. On Thursday the hospital told her to get the doc to re-send the requisition. On Friday she called the hospital and was told that they had finally received the req. but they could not act on it because the doctor's office had failed to attach the clinic notes. So on Friday afternoon Norah called the doctor's office and asked then to attach the clinic notes to the requisition.

If she had not started her enquiry, she could have been waiting politely for a call from the hospital for months, knowing that it was a long waiting list. She never would have received that call and months would have been lost.

Fortunately neither of these cases are life and death. What if they were more serious, time-sensitive issues?  As patients, we have to be proactive and assertive. We may go to all kinds of super intelligent specialists and have access to all kinds of technology but we are the only ones who know our entire medical history. It's imperative to keep track of our health episodes and to follow up on doctor's orders so that we can advocate for ourselves. Sitting back politely is not a useful strategy.

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