The medical profession tries to run customer-friendly efficient clinics, and in some areas — like phone call reminders of upcoming visits — they do a great job. But there are many other patient frustrations that should be solved.
First example: making an appointment. Typically I telephone Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF), and a female robot voice answers: "Good afternoon. Thank you for calling the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Please say the name of the person or department you are trying to reach."
"Internal medicine," I reply.
"I see we have more than one listing — Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Palo Alto, Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Los ..."
I interrupt: "Palo Alto."
"I'm sorry. I can't understand your reply. I see we have more than one listing..."
I say "Palo Alto" again after the entire list is read.
"You said Internal Medicine, Palo Alto. Is that correct?"
"Yes," I reply.
"I'm sorry. I can't understand you."
"Yes," I repeat.
"I can't understand you. Let me transfer you to the operator."
I am transferred, usually wait for five to 10 rings before pick up, and then get a message that tells me, in essence, call 911 if this is an emergency, or if I have questions about flus or fevers press 3, or if I have questions about COVID-19, press 4, etc.
When I reach the department, I get a repeated request to call 911 or "dial 4 for our information about COVID-19," and finally reach the department staff to make an appointment.
What if I was calling about an appendicitis attack?
I once called the president's office at PAMF to complain and was told "Someone will look into it."
Never heard back. And the long message never was altered.
Other medical clinics and facilities have the same telephone trials, but at least the Stanford Health Care system is quicker.
Next issue: When I go to a dentist, I don't make a six-month-in-advance appointment because I don't know what I will be doing on Aug. 15. So they send me a card two weeks before Aug. 15, and I make my appointment and all is well. My son has a routine appointment with his car repair service a couple of miles away, and every six months gets a postcard reminder that something in his car needs routine maintenance.
But physicians don't seem to do it that way. It's the "Patient, you prompt the physician" problem.
I love my doctors and their staff, but once I had a broken arm and was sent for physical therapy and never knew when — or if — I should report back to my orthopedist. I also had a nasty infected laceration, which my doctor treated, but I was not told to come back.
A friend of mine had a cardiac problem and was under routine care. Evidently he thought everything was OK, but then two weeks ago he had severe heart pains. The cardiac physician said, "I haven't seen him in more than two years."
My friend said, about making an appointment during that time, "I didn't realize I had to — the doctor never said I should make one."
Miscommunication, for sure.
And now on to coronavirus, which all of us, I am sure, have stories of how poorly our system is working.
Two friends had vaccine appointments through Stanford Health Care, and when they each checked a day before, Stanford had no record of them making an appointment. In another instance, a friend made an appointment for her husband and herself at Stanford. When she called, the nurse said the appointment she made for her husband registered, but hers did not. The first earliest opening is March 12. So she is waiting.
We all have too many similar stories. These vaccines, difficult as they are to be distributed around the nation, have had more problems than they should have. Kaiser patients are still extremely concerned that their facility has been very low on vaccines.
The problem starts at the national level and ends up at the state level. Clinics need to know in advance when they will get a supply of doses — and not just given a two-day notice as now occurs.
Why is the injection rate much lower in Santa Clara County than many other counties in the state? Why does California have the second lowest per capita inoculation rate than 49 other states in the country? One report I read said states are averaging a 10% per capita rate; California is at the 5.2% level while Mississippi, the lowest rating state, is at 4.8% per capita.
What is wrong? Who is going to fix all our medical glitches — and when?