Healthcare Hassles

Healthcare Paperwork | R. Daniel Proctor

The painful process of completing a seamingly endless number of forms

As a salute to the “Top Docs” listed in this edition of Cityview, I thought I should share with you a few of my personal experiences with medical providers during the past year. As the regular readers of “Pryorities” know (and I understand there may be three or four of you), I have a deep-seated loathing for all the forms we are required to fill out to receive medical care, especially those thick stacks required on the first visit to a doctor’s office and, again, on the first visit of each year. 

I was handed a thick stack last year in the office of one of my many doctors and noticed everyone in the waiting room was working diligently on their stack writing on clipboards that kept sliding off of their laps. Separate forms were included seeking my personal identification information, health insurance, care contact preferences, family members, emergency contacts, pharmacy addresses and phone numbers, family medical histories, and, finally, four pages for reporting my entire medical history, including every illness from birth, every surgery, every doctor, every hospital, and, worst of all, every medication and dosage properly spelled. You just want to walk out at this point, and this is just my dentist’s office. 

I usually start off completing medical forms by printing very neatly under the assumption the information is important and perhaps someone will compliment me on my penmanship. Even though nothing has changed in my life or medical care since I last filled out these same forms a few weeks ago, I try to do it neatly including complete responses. Every page requires a new report of my name, address, birth date, and Social Security number. Why not just once? By the end of the forms, my spirit and my wrist are wasted and you can hardly read a word of my writing. 

One of my forms last year asked, “Do you have a history of gaining weight?” I laughed out loud and showed the question to the woman sitting next to me who was engrossed in her own forms. We both laughed and I responded, “Yes, a long history. I started out at just 7-1/2 lbs.” I like to give unexpected answers to the questions in medical forms to see if they read them. No medical provider has ever mentioned my unusual responses or gratuitous critiques on their forms.

My all-time worst medical form experience was last year when I was required to change doctors due to the death of my previous specialist. As you get older, that becomes a problem and you find that most of your doctors either die or retire leaving you to start all over again. In advance of my first appointment, I received in the mail a large stack of medical forms to complete before my first visit. I dutifully completed the forms at home over a two-day period of time assuming they would serve as the baseline resource for my future care. 

When I arrived at my new doctor’s office, I was confronted with a disagreeable receptionist who was barking orders to other members of the staff and patients. When my time came to approach, I announced my name and that I was a new patient. “Did you fill out your forms?” the receptionist asked coarsely, as she jerked them out of my hand, along with some of my personal papers I was carrying. She looked down at the top page and asked, “What did you do before you was a lawyer?” Now, the entire waiting room was listening in their boredom, intently waiting for my answer to such an unseemly question. Loudly, to match the level of my inquisitor, I asked, “What’s that got to do with it?” “Well, we need to know your employment history,” she explained. I responded to illustrate the stupidity of questioning me beyond the forms and in front of a crowded waiting room. “Well, early on I was a tap dancer.” “A tap dancer?” “Yes, and damn good one, I might say.” “What else have you done?” she went on. “Then later I was the first Elvis impersonator and opened shows for Bill Haley and his Comets,” I explained, hoping to bring this farce to a conclusion. Undeterred, she continued, “Did you serve in the military?” The question was asked so impertinently the entire waiting room began to laugh and moved in closer to hear my response. “No, I had a deferment.” “A deferment?” she asked. “What kind of deferment?” Now was my opportunity to cut off this intrusive and unnecessary public interrogation. 

“A ventriloquist deferment,” I responded. “What? What is a ventriloquist deferment?” Then, with the attention of everyone, I explained, “You see, there were so few of us ventriloquists in the U. S.—only four or so in the country—they were afraid if one of us got killed in combat, it would wipe out the entire skill.” With that, she dropped her pen, the probing interrogation ended, and I took my seat to await my appointment. 

If you have called a doctor’s office lately to get an appointment or talk to the nurse, you know that the phone is answered by a recording which leads you along by inviting you to press the number for the correct extension. But, first, the recording advises that if you are calling about an emergency to hang up and call 911. 

Do you think a lot of people with bullet wounds, traumatic amputations, or strokes actually call their doctor’s office first? You wouldn’t think that this is a big problem. Calling your doctor’s office is the worst place you could call in the event of an emergency. You could bleed to death or lose consciousness before you could ever talk to a human. 

Of course, anytime you call your doctor’s office, you are put on hold for about 20 to 30 minutes while a recorded statement continuously reminds you of how important your call is to their practice. Finally, you get to talk with someone who directs you to the patient portal, whatever that is. I tried a patient portal one time, and it immediately asked for a password I did not have. Early in my experience with computers, I remember reading that I should never use the same password over and over. I was instructed to use a new password for every app, website, or doctor to avoid being hacked and all of my information about my big and tall purchases being stolen. Unfortunately, I followed that advice and can’t remember any of my passwords. I usually just give up when I’m trying to contact my doctor. 

My medical life is also complicated by the fact that I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. I believe in going to the doctor for help, but I always get frustrated when I can’t ask a simple question and get a simple answer. Speaking of simple, I prefer simple doctors who do not try to complicate the situation. There are fewer and fewer of that kind because so many have developed such a large ego you quickly learn that it is “all about them.” 

Have you noticed lately that your nurses have nurses? Most of my treatment is three tiers below my doctor, but I must admit I have encountered some nurse practitioners who are quite caring and helpful and better than my doctor. 

As a lawyer who spends a great deal of time assisting clients in evaluating medical treatment and damages that may be caused by medical malpractice, I have a great deal of respect for most of the physicians and surgeons who serve the Knoxville area. Knoxville has a very high standard for medical and surgical treatment, and we patients have every right to demand the best of our doctors in keeping with the area’s high standard of care. I hope your doctor made the list this year, but, if not, don’t worry because he or she is probably also very skilled. 

We are very fortunate in the Knoxville area to not only be blessed with good doctors, but we also have some outstanding medical services and facilities in most specialties of medicine. U. T. Medical Center continues to be our leading academic center for teaching, treatment, and research and consistently ranks first in Knoxville and second in the state. Parkwest Medical Center apparently leads the rest of the pack, including the other Covenant and Tennova hospitals. How lucky we are to have a great Children’s Hospital and other specialized care facilities like the Dowell Springs Medical Complex, the new East Tennessee Behavioral Health Hospital at Dowell Springs, the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center moving to its new home in west Knoxville, the new Knoxville Rehabilitation Hospital on Middlebrook Pike, and the planned addition to Tennova North Knoxville Medical Center in Powell. Knoxville, it seems, is becoming a major medical center and is leading the way in the southeast. 

Notwithstanding my personal frustrating encounters with the medical profession, we all should be proud that we live in a city with so many good doctors practicing in outstanding and state-of-the-art facilities.  

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