Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Patients & Customers....

I was taught to be a reader. I read everything. I read books. I read instructions when I am forced to. I just read. I also analyze what I read. I think about what it means or what it could mean. This is my "bent;" my disposition. I did not learn this. It is hardwired into my DNA. Most of the stuff I read is simple. Occasionally it burns through my filters; the ones I erected to shield me from the boring nature of most reading material.

I was in a hospital elevator 10 years ago. I was reading the "mission statement" of the Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, IL. What I was reading was odd; different from what I expected. It was a "customer's bill of rights." It was about things the "customer" should expect from the hospital; the corporation. It bothered me.

It reminded me of an experience at the University Of Utah Medical Center. My wife’s rheumatologist, Dr. Dega (who was quite good) sent us there for a consultation. She was having a very bad Lupus flare. She was extremely ill. The doctor at the Medical Center (mercifully, I do not remember his name.) was an insincere low-life. He had not even read the file. We left with no answers but a really bad attitude about the UUMC in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I called and complained. They connected me to a doctor who was in charge of "Customer Service." It did not go well. I was left with a really bad feeling about the process.

Fast forward to the elevator at the Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, IL:

I suppose a "patient" and a "customer" are interchangeable...grammatically. But not existentially. A "customer" is a person who wants an item or commodity. They are prepared to purchase these things. A "patient" is a sick person who needs a service. Wanting something and needing are very different experiences.

It made me realize something about modern medicine.

Everything is about business. Everything is about efficiency. Nothing is about people anymore. In hospitals you are customers; not patients. This does not mean all doctors are insincere low-life’s but it does mean they have to function within a system that sees patients as customers; consumers. They are not sick anymore. They are less than people. They are account numbers. They are liabilities to insurance companies. No matter how hard the doctors and patients try the "system" makes them adversaries. Patients get all the time they need. Customers get the time available or the time allotted.

Most doctors I have met are trying to fix this. They are tired of being providers. Most patients want it fixed. They are sick of being customers. Insurance companies and hospitals do not care...they are businesses; they are in it for the money.

Health care is too critical to be left in the hands of investors, politicians and bureaucrats. It is too important to be a game played for profit by investors.

A. I.

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