My Doctor Made a Mistake

It's time we recognize that the problem with American healthcare isn't the physicians, it's the system that doesn't allow our physicians to do what they've been trained so well to do.
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Last Tuesday and Wednesday were not good days.  Tuesday I was on a clear liquid diet all day, until 5 or so when I began ingesting what Dave Berry has called a “nuclear laxative”.  The reason for these festivities was that my PCP had ordered a colonoscopy for yours truly.  She had looked at the chart, noticed the colonoscopy I had in 2011, and ordered another one following a standard 5-year protocol.

For those who are unfamiliar with the process, I would commend Dave Berry’s excellent exposition of the medical, psychological and plumbing aspects of preparation for this particular procedure.

Suffice it to say, preparation for a colonoscopy isn’t something you want to do for a good time.  However, as a good little patient, I dutifully paid my dues and went through the process.

Wednesday morning, I met a charming nurse, who carefully went through my history, meds, allergies, etc.  She made sure that all the proper “prep” had been accomplished.  (Let me assure you, it most certainly had – I had, in the vernacular of veterans of the procedure,  “prepped my brains out”).  As she looked at my chart, she pulled the reports on the last two colonoscopies I had, in 2011 and 2014.  We were a bit confused as to why I needed a colonoscopy just two years after my last one, especially since the doctor who had performed the 2014 procedure recommended a follow-up in 5 years.  Those of you who are especially good at math may have figured that I needed a colonoscopy in 2019, NOT 2016.

A call to the PCP revealed that she had missed the 2014 procedure, and we decided that I could leave without having the physician explore my innards.  When I got home, I had the following message in the patient portal:

“This was totally my mistake. Now that I look through the chart, I see that he did have it done in 2014 and does not need it. I am SO sorry”

That response prompted this post.  Here’s the thing – I can’t agree with her analysis.  Was this “totally” her mistake?  Was it too much to expect the patient to remember he had undergone this procedure two years ago? Is the health system maybe a teeny tiny bit responsible for scheduling her patients like an assembly line, so she has to rush through encounters?  Could the insurer be slightly responsible, for putting physicians and health systems in a position where they can’t survive unless they grind through patients?

Let’s face it, no matter how rushed things get, the buck stops at the physician with hands on the patient.  We absolutely have to give these folks time to do what they’re trained to do.  As professionals, physicians are always going to accept blame for anything they are involved in – but it’s time that we recognize that the problem with American healthcare isn’t the physicians, it’s the system that doesn’t allow our physicians to do what they’ve been trained so well to do.

So, Laurie, I forgive you.  But the next time we meet, I will be singing the Colonoscopy Song.

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Dennis Hursh

Dennis Hursh

Dennis Hursh has been providing healthcare legal services in Pennsylvania since 1982. Since 1992, he has been a physician's lawyer serving as Managing Partner of Physician Agreements Health Law. Dennis has devoted his life to serving physicians and physician organizations, such as POs, IPAs, CINs and medical practices. He is the author of the definitive book on physician contracts "The Final Hurdle - a Physician's Guide to Negotiating a Fair Employment Agreement, and a frequent lecturer on physician employment agreements.

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