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The Ugly Medical System

I tried to get a personal appointment at a large prestigious academic out-patient service. The website had a "contact us", which directed me to a very prolonged questionaire wanting to know details (mainly financial) that practically included turning over my firstborn to them. After spending extensive time clicking through the questionnaire I finally came to a screen that "allowed"me to pick a time over 2 weeks in the future for a patient service rep to call me back and get more information to schedule an appointment. I was instructed many times that this would not be an appointment nor would I be speaking to a professional. OK, I get it. This was just the next step. I received multiple annoying AI texts and emails reminding me of this "appointment" time over the ensuing weeks.

When I finally spoke to the young clerk, she made me repeat much of what I had already filled out and then had trouble with her computer screen because it wouldn't accept the "reason" I wanted the appointment. Being the professional I am, I gave her multiple correct codes that she could use in Epic but it seemed none of them worked. She had no solution. She finally said a nurse from the out-patient department would call me back and see if I could be scheduled (no promises). As of two weeks later, I have not received a call or a text or an email. I surrender!

Heres another one:

I received a bill for $130 for Xray services from 4/2023 from yet a different large medical system. Yes, from over a year ago. The bill had absolutely no information that told me what was paid by insurance, just that it was "past due". I was caught in voice-mail bot hell for what seemed like hours as I was told multiple times "If this is an emergency, call 911". "Please enter invoice number. Please enter insurance number. Please click 2 if you want to know our hours-of-service. Please click 1 if you want to repeat this message". Eventually I found a live person who made me repeat all of the information I had painstakingly entered before.

I feel sorry for help desk people so I always try to be kind. They are likely poorly paid and under-resourced. All I wanted was an explanation of this bill, which she could not provide. I had already spoken to my insurer (another 30 minutes of voice bots to get to a live person) who informed me they had no record of the bill. The poor girl kept defering to her script that said "I'm sorry you need to call your insurer to get information. No I'm not allowed to send you the explanation of benefits. You need to get it from your insurer." But I've already spoken to my insurer who has no record of this.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Unfortunately these large health systems have centralized every aspect of phone contact, scheduling, billing and service and no-one on the ground is allowed to have common sense or even make a decision that would be in the patients' interest. These were simple tasks that could not be accomplished, yet both of these health giants advertise that are innovative, cutting edge and care about patients. Corporations are not people. Institutions are not people. They don't care.

Yes I have both physical and mental fatigue from dealing with the US health system. As a primary care doctor I spend way too much time advocating for patients and trying to help them solve these bureaucratic issues. And I can't even begin to describe the swim in the quagmire of pharmaceutical and insurance preauthorizations and denials. The caregivers and people who work in medical offices are doing their best, but the large conglomerates have made it impossible for the people who actually care for patients to use common sense and solve simple problems.

I was unsucessful in solving my own issues and getting my personal health needs met. I dont think it is an unusual tale.


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As a fellow health care professional, a nurse working with recently discharged patients from the hospital, the only solution I can come up with for myself is to retire!


Frankly, it's hell out here! I am so exhausted from talking to robots and massively incompetent AI systems and still not getting any answers. The US medical system has now become far worse that the dreaded British National Health system - which is saying a lot. I fear it will only get worse as artificial "intelligence" takes over more of our lives. It is way past time for us humans to begin seriously complaining about these systems that probably save money for the companies that use them while taking jobs from human customer service clerks. Recently my allergist switched over to no longer accepting the medical billing system so I had to pay her directly and then try to get…


Oh Toni - Its all so true and so exhausting. Being a senior and also taking care of my very senior fathers medical needs is a full time job just sitting on phone trees! Solutions??? Thanks for sharing! Barb


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