Thursday, July 31, 2008

Medical Hell, Part I: Sign Your Life Away

I'm planning on posting a short series of comments on the failings of our medical system, based on my experiences. In each case, my point is not to whine that I have been treated poorly. Quite the opposite, I believe that the treatment I received is typical or even "good" by our incredibly low standards. It is the medical system that I wish to criticize, not my particular health care providers. Here's the first installment:

A couple of months ago, I decided to undergo a relatively low risk heart procedure. The first available appointment was about six weeks in the future when I made the decision. During that six week period I visited the doctor once, received various papers in the mail with instructions on where to show up and when, as well as several phone calls asking to confirm the appointment and for information designed to make sure that the hospital can get paid for its services.

It was not until the just before the procedure, however, when the IV was already in my arm, that the hospital gave me detailed legal waivers to sign. Then, the nurse came in and told me she wanted to discuss the various risks of the procedure so that I could give my "informed consent." All this while I am already lying in a hospital gown with a rubber pipe sticking out of my arm. One other minor point: before all this happened, I had already passed out once when the nurse tried to get the IV into the back of my hand and, after several minutes of trying, failed and had to pull it out. My blood pressure dropped to 72/42: the perfect time to sign legal documents and make important decisions about one's health care.

I know I don't really need to say more, but I cannot resist. Just imagine me saying, "wait, nurse, I need to review the fine print in this release before I sign it." Or how about, "nurse, I'd like to negotiate here in paragraph 24.2(a)(2), where the arbitrator is JAMS. How about the AAA instead?" Or how about this one: "What? There is a risk of stroke in this procedure? Well, in that case, I changed my mind. Take this IV out of my arm, I'm going home!" Sadly, I was in no condition to be a smart-ass. What actually happened is that I signed the releases without reading them and told the nurse not to go over the risks with me, lest I pass out a second time. She beat a hasty retreat. (Yes, I knew the risks. I did my own research).

This "sneak attack" is standard operating procedure in our hospitals and doctors' offices. After the patient has bought the health insurance showing the doctor as a preferred provider, and after the patient has arrived for his appointment, the doctor presents forms waiving many important rights. Sign it or you get no treatment. Hospitals routinely wait until the patient is checked in before demanding that the patient sign their forms. Sign it or check back out.

I used to trust doctors and hospitals, but no more. This outrageous conduct is only one of the many reasons.

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