When you call the doctor

Opinion: Columns

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By Mary Kay O'Grady


Sometimes I feel like a medical Renaissance woman. In fact, the next time I have to fill out a form that asks for occupation, I'm going to put down: extensive medical treatment: examinations, hospitalizations, tests, scans, X-rays, blood work, physical therapy.

Needles don't bother me. That which I dread above all is calling a doctor or a hospital on the phone. You have to go through at least three or four people, all of whom want your name, address, date of birth, insurance, marital status(?), etc. I really shouldn't complain; what an awful job to be the third one I talk to when I'm getting testy.

Most docs also have a taped message. I swear some offices at both Rush and Loyola use the same voice — female, a bit nasal. She will give you several choices for your next step, none of which you want. She's not the one who will put you on hold and never come back. If you follow her directions, she may actually switch you to your doctor's office, which will either ring incessantly or put you on hold with some soporific music in the background. Wait, that's not fair. They might answer, and when you've finished groveling, tell you the doctor's first appointment is in July.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to call a doctor or hospital and hear this message:

"Hey, this is Spike here at (Northwestern, Loyola, Rush). Call 911 if you're really sick. Otherwise get off the phone.

"OK, if you're still on, grab your favorite beverage and sit in a comfortable chair. You'll be on hold for a long time and the music stinks. Now I admit I have no idea whether I'll be connecting you to where you want to go or somewhere else, but what I can tell you is you'll need a lot of stuff in front of you. I'm talking your ID, your insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, a referral, all that s__. No insurance? Listen, Stroger isn't as bad as it used to be. Even if you have a doc here, you're probably going to listen to a lot of taped messages before you get to the right office.

"Hey, if you're really sick and still think you should call your doc first, I'll put you on hold and say a prayer for you. But here's what I'd do. Call 911. Sure, it's a little embarrassing if you can walk to the ambulance, but trust me, these guys will take you right to the ER. You can skip the waiting room, where you'll catch God-knows-what. I'm telling you. You may have to wait a few hours in an ER bed, but at least you'll be lying down. And they'll get hold of your doc. They'll also do all of the paperwork."

"So unless you're bleeding or on the floor, I'd start looking for that chicken soup. I repeat, there's no way, I mean no way, you're actually going to talk to a doctor. Just so you know. Spike out."

Note: If you are one of my docs, this is not personal, and Mary Kay O'Grady is a pseudonym. 

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: February 20th, 2019 9:23 PM

So true. But Ms. O'Grady is missing some important details like: "Your call is important to us, so stay on the line, and someone will be right with you." This sentence is repeated as often as necessary ... which most often is often. And then there is my favorite: the "Loyola Philosophy Soliloquy" Loyola doesn't just play elevator music for their captured audience. No Loyola lets us know that Loyola "treats body and soul ... we treat the human spirt." Then the voice point out that Loyola is a leader in heart, lung, liver and kidney transplant and so on. This is repeated many times so you know it must be true. Hey I just need to talk to someone about my little ole hand surgery. I don't need a transplant ... yet. Of course I found, at least with Loyola (and I assume some of the other big healthcare networks) there is a way around this taped message hell: the "protected" personal health care web site, thereby avoiding all the above. These sites permit you - the patient - to view your lab results, x-rays, scheduled appointments and make appointments as well! The author should try it; I know she will like it. I did. And do.

Kitty Conklin  

Posted: February 20th, 2019 8:56 PM

wow! is this ever so true!

Marlene Scott from Oak Park  

Posted: February 20th, 2019 8:02 PM

Mary Kay, This was your best column ever! We can all relate to the frustration of spending way too much time maneuvering the automated phone sysyems of our many doctors. Thanks for all the laughs.

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