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Note to the US Healthcare System: Treat Me Like a Dog
By Peter Longo
I think everyone knows the US healthcare delivery system seems to have more challenges than solutions. From my vantage point, working in healthcare technology,I sometimes wonder if we can ever put all the crazy puzzle pieces together. I never thought that one day, soon after a long overdue physical and a trip to my dog’s vet, I would deem it in so need of repair that I begged to be treated like a dog.
Recently my beloved dog Hamlin’s digestive system grew tired of his “Cowboy Chow” dog food. Without a moment’s notice, my wife quickly went out and purchased him three other kinds to choose from. (I wonder if tonight I complain about dinner, will my wife run out to three different restaurants and find me something I prefer?)
Even the newly purveyed dog food did not settle Hamlin’s stomach. My wife, busy escorting three kids about town, informed me I had to take him to the vet. Since I work for a healthcare technology firm, I assumed going to a doggy doctor would be fun and enlightening; a respite from seeing human hospitals and doctor offices.
Hamlin and I eagerly pranced into the office with me ready for the inevitable “doctor wait”. Interestingly enough, I was greeted at the counter by a smiling receptionist calling out Hamlin’s name. But of course, they were expecting him because he had an appointment! Wow, novel concept here I thought.
Next I had my wallet out, ready to be accosted for money before I could even get a quick question in. Before I could eject my credit card, the side door opened and a smiling “nurse” asked Hamlin to come this way. (I assumed they were smiling because they were going to make a fortune out of me). Guarding my wallet, I followed our escort down the hall. I was still dazed from the fact they were expecting us and recognized Hamlin.
As we entered our exam room, I was perplexed to see a shiny new notebook computer on display. Before I could gasp in shock, the vet walked up behind me, introduced himself to Hamlin (the patient) first, then to me. Casually, he turned toward his shiny new laptop and within two key strokes had Hamlin’s medical record on the screen. My dog’s entire record. Looking like the complete geek that I am, I jumped at the vet asking to see everything on the system.
Eyeing me as though I might be in need of medical help myself, he leaned back to show me Hamlin’s electronic medical record. His life history, his owners, where he was born, any past medications he had, everything. Even his lab results were in there. The polite but guarded vet then showed me three other exam rooms, all equipped with shiny new laptops, all with Hamlin’s record available on them.
After a quick and thorough exam, the vet punched a few more keystrokes. He electronically ordered various lab tests — right then and there! I asked him about the firm that performs the tests and he told me the lab he uses provides great service and is top notch. He said the lab results will be sent back electronically and into Hamlin’s file directly! (In a moment of serendipity, I later discovered it was my company’s software providing the lab with the tools to accomplish this small miracle).
As I left the room and approached the front counter, a nurse had a prescription waiting for me along with three cans of super special dog food. Now I was really confused — is it not the patient’s job to walk the prescription and files to the front counter? Did my paper shuffling job just get outsourced to a computer? Adding to staff’s perception of my total geekiness, I asked how she did that. With a slight chuckle, she showed me the computer screen where the doctor requested it from the exam room. It just angered me to see such efficiency. I know my kids feel Hamlin deserves only the best, but better healthcare service than me? Adding injury to insult, I paid only $55 for the visit.
Hamlin’s enlightening experience really made me think of my own recent medical episode. A few weeks earlier, I went to my annual check-up. I scheduled the appointment and diligently showed up on time. As I checked in to see my doctor, one hand shoved a clipboard in my face, while a second hand went for my wallet. No verbal communication yet. Even though Hamlin theoretically can’t speak, he was treated to verbal communication and a custom greeting. I then proceeded to brush up on pop culture in a six-month-old People Magazine (I did not know Britney had a second baby and broke up with K-Fed?) while waiting 27 minutes for my appointment. If only someone told me how long my wait would be — but hey, that would take the fun out of guessing when I would be home.
I finally entered my exam room to be greeted by a nurse,a sheet of blank paper and a $.25 pen. She took my vitals. Later, my doctor sashayed in with that same high tech paper but a more expensive pen (with a drug company’s name on it) to drill me further. As all checked out fine, he indicated he needed some lab work to complete the exam. Amongst some forms floating on a table (uncomfortably near my half-clothed rear end) he found an order sheet. He checked a few things here and a couple things there then gave me the nod to transport the paper across the hall; then my lab orders and I waited some 18 minutes more.
A couple of weeks after my exam, I received my lab results “in the mail.” Next to each test result, the doc was kind enough to scribble an “OK.” Then a nice hand-written note claiming, “All looks OK, see you next year.” I put that report in a sophisticated manila folder and filed it. Why did I have to have this manual, impersonal, medical experience right before my vet visit?
Dazed and confused after leaving the vet, I wandered back to our house. Upon opening the door, my three kids showered Hamlin with love. They rubbed his back, gave him endless kisses and asked him easy softball questions. “Have you been a good boy?” My wife brought over doggie treats and “king” Hamlin relaxed on his back as the kids indulged him full of treats. My life quickly went to the store to find him “the best food money can buy.”
I was left standing at the door waiting to even be recognized. I sure did not get any kisses, let alone a back rub. I put myself on the couch and wondered if anyone was going to fetch me a treat. I would have been happy if one of my three kids just pushed the remote closer. As I stared at a blank TV screen, it dawned on me … I really need to be treated more like a dog.