Sorry, Wrong Number

20 Oct 2003
October 20, 2003

We got home the other night and there was a message on our answering machine:

This is [garbled] from “Dr. X’s” office. Your insurance company has approved your prescription for Vioxx. You can call your pharmacy to arrange for pickup. Also, the doctor wanted me to tell you he spent 17 minutes with your insurance company in order to get approval. If you have any questions, please call our office.

Yes, as a matter of fact, I did have some questions. There were a few problematic things about this message. First, I didn’t remember having a prescription for Vioxx, a fairly new and powerful anti-inflammatory. Last Spring my endodontist tried to prescribe it for the pain I had after a root canal. But my insurance company refused to authorize it.

I remember how surprised I was when the pharmacist informed me of this. It was my first pharmaceutical refusal–ever. I assumed my insurance was the best my meager salary could buy. It never occurred to me they had their limits. I was shocked and mistaken. Case closed. After paying for a few overpriced tablets out-of-pocket, I decided to stick with an over-the-counter analgesic. I was sure this had nothing to do with my latest Vioxx message.

The doctor’s office had obviously made a mistake when they called me. I had recently seen a Dr. X, but was this the same Dr. X I had seen? There were many doctors with that last name in the phone book. The message giver had left no phone number and no first name to confirm. What should I do? If this prescription wasn’t for me, then someone in pain was waiting for it.

Finally, no matter who this Dr. X was, it was unsettling to know he had made his co-worker inform me that he had overspent seventeen whole minutes advocating for a patient in pain. That was most painful for me to hear.

Many Americans think we have the best healthcare system in the world. But my diminishing face-to-face contact time with my doctors shows the strain in the system. The maximum allotted time with your primary care physician is often a meager ten minutes. Too many patients waiting in cold examination rooms at the same time. So I try to schedule medical appointments either first in the day or directly after lunch. I want to insure my waiting time is kept to a minimum and I’m talking to someone focused on me.

I also make sure I write down any questions I may have. I’ve got to be efficient with our time together and have learned I must be my (and my family’s) best advocate. Despite the implied power we’ve given to the medical community (where someone as forthright as myself often finds it hard to question), I push a discourse on medical choices when I must. Whenever necessary I demand more than my ten minutes.

So I was disappointed when I felt this doctor’s disgust over having to use seven minutes more than the allocated time slot. And I secretly hoped this Dr. X wasn’t my Dr. X.

I called my doctor’s office and I told the woman who answered the phone the problem. I didn’t know if it had been her office that had called. I didn’t know the person who left the message. And, finally, I didn’t have an outstanding prescription for the wonder drug in question. This mystery made her chuckle but she said she’d look into it.

I left it at that, knowing I had done my best to set things straight.

The next morning I came to work and there was an identical message on my voicemail. But this time the caller’s name wasn’t garbled and she left the doctor’s first name as well to confirm it was indeed my Dr. X. Once again I was hit hard by her words: “The doctor wanted me to tell you he spent 17 minutes with your insurance company in order to get approval.” I called and asked for “Agnes.”

She answered the phone. I told her my tale and her reaction was “how strange.” Yes, it had been she who had called me the day before. I could hear her scratch her head. Agnes said she’d look into it and call me back. When she did, she confirmed a mistake had been made. It was another patient. But she offered no further explanation.

And I didn’t ask for any. I had all the information I needed. It had been my Dr. X.

2 replies
  1. Tomas says:

    “Many Americans think we have the best healthcare system in the world.”
    No offence, but if so, many Americans are very very ignorant.

  2. Jeff says:

    Tomas, many Americans are starting to see that our healthcare system needs a huge overhaul. Prescription drugs (made by American firms) cost more here than abroad and many people are starting to buy their drugs internationally at much lower prices.
    There have been many news reports here about Americans (even local governments) buying prescription drugs in Canada because the cost is lower there for *American* drugs.
    Not all Americans are ignorant about this problem. And, as the huge number of “baby boomers” age (those born from 1946-1962) the medical system will come under even greater scrutiny.

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