Sunday, September 03, 2006

Quick! It's an Emergency!!

One thing I really love about blogging is how reading someone else's post based on their experiences can trigger memories of your own and inspire you to write about something else.

I've been so neglectful the last week or so since school started---both in posting and reading. I'm working my way through everybody's blogs trying to catch up this weekend, so thanks for your patience!

Today while reading my friend Ma Titwonky's blog, I stopped to comment on a post that she wrote a couple of days ago about the absolute hell she went through trying to get a doctor's appointment.

If you haven't taken the time to visit her blog Enema Portal for Groan Ups, I highly recommend it! Especially if you want a very brilliant, funny and no-nonsense commentary on various topics in the news and everyday life. I might not agree with everything she writes, but I truly admire her panache.

Her latest post has coined the phrase "The League of People With Sh*t For Brains" which struck me as very funny.

When she wrote in her entry about her troubles getting an appointment with her doc, she said:

"So I call the professional with whom I wish to make the appointment. Naturally I have to go through the options menu. I did notice that they removed the ridiculous line, “if this is a TRUE medical emergency, please hang up and dial 911.” I referenced this quote to a number of the staff and asked how many fake medical emergencies they got. No one had an answer… no, let me amend that. None of the staff even had a clue to what I was referring. I know this because that kind of puzzled blank stare cannot be faked. Or maybe they just don’t know how to adequately deal with smart asses. Yeah, that’s probably it."

I started to comment about the "ridiculous line" regarding TRUE medical emergencies, but halfway through it, I realized that my comment was so long it really could be worked into its own post!

Smooches to you Ma Titwonky! Hope you don't mind my hijacking your post!

Back in the days before "Options menus", when my little guy was a little tadpole swimming in his own universe that was my uterus, I worked nights at an answering service that catered primarily to the medical community after hours. We served a couple of hundred doctors and/or HMO clinics around the metro area.

Most doctors' offices are open 9-5 Monday through Friday (unless they are after-hour clinics), and sometimes with morning hours on Saturday. After hours, there are doctors who rotate taking over each other's practices and are on what is called "on call". For urgent calls.

I'm not trying to be condescending---I'm hoping that most of the people who read my blog already know this, but really---I mean it---there is, what Ma Titwonky calls, "The League of People with Sh*t for Brains".

I totally "get" the message on the voicemail/options menu that says "If this is a TRUE medical emergency, hang up and call 911".

This is why:

Because you have to rein in the dolts and give them a good reality check and/or bitchslapping.

During my time at the answering service (and over the years I can only imagine it's gotten worse) some people think that their family doctor has no life and is there to serve them 24/7 to fit THEIR schedules.

They might insist that their problem is an "emergency" after hours when it comes to talking to the doc, but not such an "emergency" that they're willing to call 911. I mean, if you think you're having a heart attack, you aren't really going to call your doc, are you? You're going to call 911!

Let me explain.

About 5% of the total calls that come in at night could be considered really "urgent".

These included calls like food or other poisoning, an accident where someone needs stitches or has a broken bone, a small child that might have suddenly spiked a high fever out of the blue, or in one memorable case, a woman who called and said to me, "I'm having what is like a really heavy period".

Me: "Like?"

Caller: "I had a hysterectomy 5 years ago!"


These calls were usually to get primary care authorization to go to the emergency room for insurance purposes.

Most doctors on the service would have a protocol, which would come up on the screen whenever we'd get a forwarded call.

It was usually like this:

Urgent: Page the doctor.

Not bleeding or dying: Save for when the doc checks in for messages (which the on-call doc did every couple of hours or so).

Save: Non-urgent calls that can be picked up by the office in the morning.

95% of the calls every night were from "The League of People With Sh*t For Brains".

They went like this:

Call comes in at 8pm. "My pharmacy closes in an hour and I'm out of refills on my prescription!"

Um, like you didn't know this a day or so ago when you only had a couple of pills left?

Call comes in on Friday after hours. "I've been sick with the flu all week and I think I need to talk to the doctor!"

This is the kind of asshat who has gone to work all week, coughed germs all over his co-workers and thinks the doc will prescribe something over the phone if he calls on the weekend so he can save his sick days to go to the Teste Festival in Missoula Montana.

And my personal favorite...

Call comes in around 9pm. "I'm not feeling well and I need to know right away if the doc has anything available first thing in the morning so I can plan my day around it! I need to know now!!!"

Doh. Let me page the doctor on call this week for your personal doctor's schedule and get back with ya, K? Hahahahaha!

Of course, back in the answering service days, if the doc didn't call back within 20 minutes or so, we'd get repeated calls about these "emergencies" and be subjected to all kinds of verbal abuse. If we broke down over it and paged a doc, we'd get our heads handed to us on a platter.

It was "no win" for us.

I LOVE the fact that docs' office messages say "If this is a TRUE emergency, hang up the phone and call 911".

No BS. Nobody to argue with or verbally abuse.

Helps give the "League" a reality check, you know?

If you think the sniffles you've had all week are an after-hours emergency, go to the ER, you doof! And be prepared to pay for it when your insurance company refuses to pay the emergency fees!


Jod{i} said...

In my job, I oversee the Health/Mental Health department...basically corrdinating doc appointmnts for people in group homes and chatting with my staff and the is amazing to me the offices and these dang recordings...and how many people do wait to see if they get better...

Very nicely written!

KL said...

OMG I have worked at several answering services over the years...about one in every state I have lived in it seems. Anyway, I totally get what you are saying, having experienced it first hand.

Did you also get the problem with the on-call Dr's wife? It's 3am and there is a call that DOES demand you call the o/c Dr. and the wife answers the phone and bitches at you? It's like...HELLO...did you not KNOW he was oncall? Is there some reason you have to have the phone on your side of the bed?? Can you get over yourself and quit reaming me for doing MY job?

And why is John Q. Public SO stupid?? You answer the phone identifying yourself as the answering service and they never seem to hear that part!

It sure seems sometimes that "The League of People With Sh*t For Brains" is winning :(

Stinkypaw said...

Some poeple just have sh*t for brains... that's all!

Anonymous said...

OMG. ha ha.
I cannot believe the stupidity of some people.
ha ha ha.
I hope you're having a great weekend!

Kunoichi said...

And why is John Q. Public SO stupid?? You answer the phone identifying yourself as the answering service and they never seem to hear that part!

Oh, I can answer that one. It's because we didn't *hear* it!

One of my pet peeves is that when the person who answers the phone (and this applies to many places, not just answering services), they run through their spiel so quickly, it's over before I have a chance to register the "hello." There have been times when I've called the wrong number and I had to get the person answering to repeat themselves twice before I could figure out that I'd call the wrong place.

Jenny said...

I used to work for a company that took customer service calls for morons. At least that's what I assumed based on the calls we got in.

Annie Drogynous said...

Luckily I've never been one of those people who's had the need to call the dr. for every little thing. That and because my linen closet is like it's own separate pharmacy and I can always be assured that there's something in there that will help with the problem I'm having at the time, lol.

Voicemail has become too commonplace over the years and I just can't stand it. Too many options to choose from and fewer live people to handle the problems. If it weren't for being able to push 0 in most cases, I would have already flung the phone at the wall! I, too, have always laughed at the "If this is a real emergency, please hang up and dial 911". I've read stories these days that people are now getting arrested for making non-emergency 911 calls like the dimbulb who called and asked the operator to send back the "hottie cop" to her home, lol.

34quinn said...

I don't know about where you are but where I live if you call an ambulance you get the bill too!! So that alone cuts down on frivilous calls for ambulance services.
Also you can get the bill from the fire department as well, this is a good deterant. The fact that calling for help when not really required takes those resources from some one that may truly need it, doesn't seem to work for some people...sometimes you just have to hit them in the wallet to smarten up their ass's.

kim said...

my 82 yr old mother (who doesnt look or act a day over 60 ) is the manager of a large apartment complex would not believe the idiots that call the answering service after hours and insist on speaking to the manager.
because their toliet is plugged up ...
because the hall light is burnt out...
because someone is in their parking space! its amazing ...the office is open 6 days a week for almost 12 hours and this little emergency had to wait untill midnight on tuesday? aghhhhhhhh it makes me crazy

Tracie said...

Can I just say that in my whole life I have never called a doctor after hours. Never.

My mom works at a doctor's office and she always taught me--if it's an emergency go to the emergency room. If it is urgent go to urgent care. If it is a medical question about something important, but not maybe you are trying to decide if it warrents a visit to the doctor at all, then call one of those nurse answers lines-otherwise take some advil and a nap and leave hard-working people alone!

shirley said...

Gah! I wonder where those people get their misplaced sense of entitlement? Hee! Now you've sparked my next post. This is a like a subversive meme!

Ma Titwonky said...

The only time that voice message is available (the one with the snide TRUE medical emergency comment - and you have to hear it said because it most definitely was snide) was during regular office hours. My gripe was heaven forbid someone in the office actually has to answer the phone and determine whether the person on the other end needs to be seen immediately by the doctor OR should go directly to the hospital. It would have been more honest to announce up front that they don't do anything that even remotely looks like an emergency, and further, do not expect to even try to discuss it with anyone.

That said, I'm not discounting the fact that there are a whole host of people with shit for brains who make ridiculous calls when they ought to have the sense God gave them to realize they do not need anyone's immediate attention in the middle of the night. I think working for an answering service would be an amazing experience because you've confirmed what I've suspected -- you'd get a wealth of stories you could catalog into a manual of the League of People With Shit For Brains. You could have a best seller on your hands if you made it a book! I know it's maddening when you have to deal with those people, but later when you can write or tell the stories it's worth it to us who benefit from your experience. :)

Pendullum said...

I called my doctor once with an emergency.My daughter was 11 months old and perfectly healthy.
I put her downfor her afternoon napand she woke up screaming... Just screaming... Nothing could console her, a definitely out of character for my kid ...
I called the emergency number for my doc.
I was embaressed to having to make the call...
it was a gut reaction...
The doctor called back and said..'

'You have two options that i can see...
'Lemme finish my dinner and I will open the office for you.. in 20 minutes....
Or... Have a very sleepless night full of worry...'

I took door number one...
It was a very wise decision...
It was an emergency that my doctor could handle.
And knock on wood... the last time I've needed to use that line...
It is sacred to me...And to be used with respect...

My FIL is on the other end of the scale...He is a hyperchondriac that uses the hospital for every ache and pain. He has been to the hosilat with no exaggeration 27 times this year...
He is one of the reasons why our healthcare system is being taxed to death.

He frankly he could careless how much to visit has cost the tax payer...
He would never dream of making an appointment during normal business hours as his time is valuable.
He self-medicates himself through all these different doctors in different hospitals...
Someday it is going to be serious... and none of us will believe him...
But to think of the cost it has cost the tax payers is mind blowing...

Lisa Goldstein/Kelly Kelly said...

I agree with you on why it's important to leave that message on there, because doctors have lives etc. and also for the legal disclaimer nature of it too.


spaceface said...

I work at a health facility as a Administrative Assistant and I swear, it works both ways. Its an emergency when they can't get refills THIS SECOND, but when someone is bleeding to death, they call and want to speak to the doctor to find out if they SHOULD go to the Emergency Room. It drives me batty!

Great post!