Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bizarre and more bizarre

Back in this past winter and spring I posted a bit about health issues.

On September 1st my doctor died from a stroke. He was, I think, 61 or 62, and in otherwise good health. This in itself is a shock, but there's more. I was deeply immersed in my art making project in September and so wasn't reading the newspapers much and completely missed the obituaries that were published in the weeks following my doctor's death. I even missed the letter I got from my insurance company telling me my doctor would no longer be available. They didn't say he died, they said he would no longer be able to provide care.

Finally, about a week ago, I got a new insurance card in the mail with a new doctor's name on it. I got my mail too late in the day to call the insurance co., but I did call my doctor's office. I got the answering service. Not a machine, but an actual person. I said I assumed I was reaching the service, and they said yes, but the office was closed. I said, sure, it's 7pm, I figured that. And the woman said, no, the office is closed for business - the doctor has died. Well. I'm sitting there with my mouth hanging open. The woman apologizes, says she understands how shocked I must be, and every time she tells another patient she herself is shocked all over again. She tells me some details about how the doctor died (in a kayak, with his wife). There isn't much else to say, so I mentally note that I have to call the insurance co. and the doctor I've been assigned on Monday morning. 

Monday morning. I call a doctor who a friend of mine really liked, but she's not accepting any new patients. The office is at capacity. OK. They give me the name of a new doctor in town who is taking new patients. I try to find the phone number of the doctor I've been assigned by the insurance co., but I look everywhere and there is no listing for them. I look in the hard copy phone book, white and yellow pages, I look on line. I look under the doctor's name, I look under the practice's name. Nothing. Nada. So I call the friend's doctor's office and they, thank God, have the number. I reach the assigned doctor's office. They advise me they aren't taking patients outside their limited geographical area (even though this is who the insurance co. assigned me to). This area doesn't include where I live, and they recommend the same doctor my friend's doctor's office recommended. Apparently this guy is probably the only doctor in central Vermont who is taking new patients. OK  then. On to the new doctor. I call, I explain. They know all about it. We make an appointment for December (which I later change to January so it'll be an annual physical, and therefore covered by the freaking insurance). They say they will send me an introductory pack of forms, including a release of records form that I can use to get my medical records from my deceased doctor's office.

Which is really good, because it turns out the deceased doctor's office isn't releasing records directly to patients, but only transferring records to other doctor's offices. I find this out when I call the deceased doctor's answering service on Tuesday, because the answering service told me I could talk with someone there on Tuesdays and Thursday between 2-4pm. It turns out I couldn't actually talk with anyone besides the answering service, but they did clarify that I could drop my release form at the office during those hours, but only to drop it off (or fax it over), that I could not actually get my records. And how, I asked, would I know that, first, they'd recieved the request, and second, responded to it and sent it to my new doctor? Oh, they said, you could call your new doctor's office and check with them. As much as I wanted to argue the circular logic of this response I saw that the woman at the answering service couldn't help me, so I said thanks and hung up. 

One thing that took a day or so to sink it was a detail the answering service woman had told me (or maybe it was one of the receptionists at one of the other's kind of mushed together in my mind now). It's this - the deceased doctor's office will be processing requests to release medical records until the end of October. I called my new doctor's office yesterday (Friday) asking if they had the correct address for me, as I hadn't recieved the forms yet. They told me they had a big stack to send out, but they appreciated getting a confirmation of my correct address, and that they'd be sending the forms out shortly. I sure hope I can get my records transferred before Oct. 31st. I don't want to think about what I might have to do after that date. Sue? File a brief in civil court? What all?

Then, today, Saturday, I'm at the farmer's market. I see the nurse practitioner from my deceased doctor's office. I tell her I feel badly for her, she must be having a hard time. Well, she wants to know if I got a letter from the office letting me know what happened. I told her no, that I found out from the insurance co. She told me the family of the deceased doctor, through an intermediary, told her they didn't have any money to pay her a week after the doctor died. That she couldn't work there anymore, not even to contact patients to let them know what happened. The nurse, on her own, looked for (in the phone book) and was able to find 53 of the several hundred patients she knew, and in this way was able to let them know by letter, that the doctor had died and they needed to find a new doctor for their primary care.

So she is trying to find her own way and is working to get a new practice together. You see, a big reason I was a patient of the deceased doctor was because the nurse practitioner was on staff. I could get my physical examination with a woman. Now? Now I have to start all over again, with a  new doctor whose only recommendation is that he's so new he has room for me. Meanwhile, if the nurse practitioner starts a new practice I may or may not join her there, as she is a bit muddled in methods and communication. Fun all around.

But I can see even though this is a general pain in the ass, it is not so awful as it might be. I am in good health. I am not dependent on the deceased doctor for any prescriptions, treatments or diagnosees. As frustrating as this situation is, it could be so much more so. I'm grateful for that. My heart goes out to the patients who actually have to find their way through this morass, not just checking in around the edges like I am doing. 

Hopefully everything will go smoothly with the transfer of records and I won't have anything new to report until next year. I'll let you know.

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