The *care* in Health Care?

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

So yesterday, as suggested, Marce and I went to pre-register for Mia’s birth at the best of the 3 (soon to be 2) hospitals in Gainesville.  This was our third attempt, since the last two times, the wait for registration was at least half an hour, and we didn’t want to waste time sitting around.  We were told there was only 1 person ahead of us, so we were very excited about finally getting this minor task off our to-do list.

After about 10 minutes, a woman with the nastiest case of “I-don’t-wanna-be-here” I’ve ever seen ushered us into a tiny room and plopped down in front of her computer.  The first words out of her mouth were “I need your driver’s license and insurance card”.  Not “hello”, or “how are you?”, or “Congratulations, and thanks for choosing our hospital!”  She just extended her arm from behind her desk (throne?) and waited for the requested items.

Those of you who know me understand that whenever I come across cranky people I take it as a personal challenge to make them smile.  Before sitting down across from the desk, I said “Tough day, huh?” and struck up a conversation with her.  To make a long story short, she did eventually smile on the way out, but the whole experience was terrible.

Here were the highlights:

  • We were told to pay a $450 deductible on the spot, of which we were never previously notified
  • Marce was forced to sign several documents (in legaleze of course) that basically said:
    • We might accidentally kill your baby during delivery (oops!), but the Florida State Legislature says you can’t sue us for more than $200,000
    • We also might kill you during delivery (oops again), but your life is also only worth $200,000
    • Even though this hospital is “in-network” for your insurance, you may be treated by an “out-of-network” physician, and if so, you won’t be notified in advance, but you will be billed for it and be held responsible for payment
    • If you don’t like any of this, tough, deliver your baby in the street for all we care

For the record, we have the best health insurance available in Florida, which currently accounts for about 14% of our gross annual income (between employer and employee contributions).  Even so, we are still required to pay about $1,500 out-of-pocket, and that’s before we’ve bought or changed the first diaper.  But, hey, at least the mistreatment and verbal/psychological abuse comes free!

The current health care debate is focusing entirely on “who will pay for it”, and we can (and will) continue to debate that aspect for decades.  But, regardless of who is paying the bill, hospitals should never forget that apart from being patients, they are also people.  In a private model, as we currently have in this country, it is even more critical to understand that they are also *paying customers*.  I can’t think of any other industry where it’s perfectly acceptable to abuse, neglect, mistreat, scream at, and disregard your customers and still make record profits.

Today, I’d like to offer a few suggestions about the actual quality of care provided.  These are based on my personal experiences at doctor’s offices, hospitals, and emergency rooms.

Simple Suggestions for Improved Care:

  • Free Coffee and Hot Chocolate for Patients and Visitors
    • When you’re charging $1000 per hour for a bed, the least you can do is throw in a cup of joe.  I get that at the Jiffy Lube with an oil change, and they only charge $20.
  • 24/7 Staffed Kid’s Room
    • Include game consoles, board games, activities, free snacks, etc.
    • The last thing a parent needs to be worrying about at 3am when their spouse just had a heart attack is where they can safely leave their kid in a supervised environment when they need to pee.
  • The Concierge
    • Hire someone whose sole job is to make sure that any visitors are as calm as possible in that situation.  (“Can I get you a soda?”, “Do you need to make a long-distance call?”, “We have a business center right over here if you need to check email.”, “If you or a family member needs a ride, we have shuttle service to and from the airport”)
  • Bring Back House Calls
    • This idea is actually Marce’s, but I love it and had to include it. The amount of stress and anxiety produced by doctor’s office and the requisite insurance forms can’t possibly be good for healing. Imagine that you could call a 1-800 number at any time, and within 20 minutes a doctor would show up at your door. In case of an emergency, you would be immediately transported, with an escort, to a hospital or urgent care center. This same service would also assign you a dedicated family doctor who would be required to check in with you every 3-6 months, just to see how you are doing, and if you need any help with your diet or exercise programs. You could request a different doctor if you prefer, but you would always have 24/7 personalized medical care, in the comfort of your own home, and all just a phone call away!

These are just a few admittedly idealistic ideas, but from a business perspective, they make sense.  I spoke with our doctor this morning and she said they have done studies that prove that happy patients are less likely to sue their doctor or hospital.  So really, these ideas could actually end up saving money in the long run.

Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts? How would you improve the *quality* of health care in the United States?  Have you experienced an exceedingly great or awful medical or hospital visit?

Bonus Points:

Can you come up with a way to insure all of a person’s medical expenses for less than 14% of their gross annual income?  If so, please contact your local congressman and share this information, because he or she is busy fighting off the estimated 6 medical industry lobbyists* assigned to each one of them at the moment.

* Read the story at ABC News

4 replies on “The *care* in Health Care?”

Gasp! Nod… sigh… and welcome to health care in the USA. We may only have a doctor one day a week down here, but at least for that day he is never rushed, always attentive, and always kind.

At the same time I am appalled and not so surprised at your treatment. Concierge medicine has been on the rise in recent years, spurred mainly by physicians who are sick and tired of the exact health care system you just described. The suggestions you made are some minor first steps at making our current healthcare system more tolerable. But we’re still a long way off from ideal healthcare (which should support health and not just treat disease). Keep up the good blogging!

Thanks for posting, Martha!

I would love to see more innovation in the medical industry, especially in terms of the quality of care. I think that with the incredible amount of money we spend on health care in this country, the least we deserve is good customer service.

On the plus side, it’s a relief to see that some insurance companies are finally paying for “alternative” medicines like acupuncture and massage. I hope for the day when we’re giving doctors bonuses for keeping their patients healthy, rather than medicated.

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