We all have our problems with the medical system, but in truth, the system is abusing all of us, at least in one way: it’s taking our time.
Usually, we either talk about the cost or the quality of the medical services, but Sarah Kliff, writing for Vox, identifies a third way the American health care system exploits and mistreats patients: by taking advantage of their time. The same goes for many other countries, where even routine procedures can take a whole lot of time and effort and patients are often left to figure out how to deal with things themselves.
Physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and private clinics all work and function independently and de-centralized. For this reason, there’s a significant lack of communication between them, and the responsibility of making sure everyone gets the right information falls on you, the patient. This might not seem like much, but in real life, even simple procedures can cost you a lot of time and can become a complex burden. Kliff gives a personal example which I feel is highly relevant:
“Last December, a doctor told me to get an MRI and see him again three weeks later to go over the results. I wanted to scream, ‘Do you understand what it’s like to schedule an MRI?’
I did – I had done it three months earlier. I knew it would require his office putting together a justification for the scan and sending that to my insurance company. That usually took a few days or a week. Then the insurance company would need to pre-approve the scan. That usually took a week or so – and another few days before I received a letter notifying me of the decision. Only then could I schedule the procedure.
But for my doctor, getting an MRI was simple – he just had to ask me to do it.”
The thing is, this cost — the time lost by patients running from doctor to doctor — isn’t accounted for anywhere. Patients have lives too, they have jobs to take care of, responsibilities and so on. Even if you are insured, and even if the medical service is high-quality, most of the time you still have to spend a lot of time knocking on doors. Aside from wasting time and effort, there’s another risk, as Kliff continues:
“There is a risk associated with not measuring patient work: namely, that patients will give up when life gets in the way. This is an especially acute worry for lower-income patients, who often work for hourly wages and have little space to change their schedules.”
When you depend on that 9 to 5 job and you can only catch the doctor until 4, there’s a good chance you’ll give up on the doctor appointment. With no solution in sight, this silent problem costs us much more than we’d care to admit.
A big part of improving the health system will be eliminating (or greatly reducing) this cost. If we want to fix the problem, then a solid communication network should be set up, where all information can be 1) easily accessed, and 2) easy to act upon. If the doctor decides you need an MRI soon, it should be easy to get. But with no solution in sight, this silent problem will cost us, and much more than we’d care to admit.