Friday, January 22, 2010

Doc's Behaving Badly: The Note on the Door

So my primary care doc decided to retire, but declined to announce this decision to his patients. Before (apparently) skipping town, he and his (former) practice posted a letter to that effect on the front door. The practice (which continued on) also decided not to notify its patients of this material and substantial change to their health care equation.

This, of course, creates a number of problems:

First, by failing to notify its patients, the practice puts their insurance coverage at risk. As most professional agents counsel their clients, just because one doc in a practice is in-network doesn't automatically mean that they all are.

Second, although I was not a regular fixture at this office, I've been a patient for over 10 years, and the fact that the now-retired physician -- we'll call him Dr S -- is no longer available seems relevant. For example, after much nagging, er, urging by my better half, I (finally!) scheduled a full-scale routine exam. Mind you, I scheduled this exam after Dr S flew the coop, but before I was aware of "the sign on the door." In fact, the only reason I knew about it at all is that one of my clients is (or was) also a long-time patient of Dr S, and called me to find out what I knew about it.

And so I stopped by the office, saw (and read) "the note on the door," and popped in for details. I was told by the very nice young lady behind the glass window that the staff had strongly encouraged Dr S to send out a letter announcing his forthcoming retirement, but (for reasons known only to himself, apparently) he demurred. I nodded, and asked why the other, remaining doc (his erstwhile partner) hadn't felt it necessary to notify her new patients of the change. The young lady replied that they were telling patients as they called in; I quickly corrected her, reminding her that I had made my appointment after the event, but was told nothing.

There really wasn't anything she could say to that, nor did I expect her to. It's not her call to make.

The more I pondered this, the angrier I became; just as in a marriage, the doctor-patient relationship is built on trust: the doc trusts that I will inform him (or her) about symptoms or whatever, and I trust that I will receive appropriate care, or a referral, or whatever. By failing to explicitly notify me of this change, the practice broke that trust.

Obviously, there's nothing to be done about Dr S. He did what he did, and there's really no recourse there. But his (now former) partner abused that relationship, and I wondered if perhaps the Montgomery County Medical Society might have something to say about that.

I called the society and left several voice mails, one of which was eventually returned. I was eventually transferred to a Ms Mahle, who apparently forgot to take her "be nice to people who call in" pills that morning. For one thing, she completely mischaracterized how insurance networks operate, and when I corrected her, she got, well, let's just call it "snippy." She did provide me with the number for the Ohio Medical Board, but then told me she didn't want to talk with me, and hung up before I could reply.

Which was probably just as well.

When I called the Ohio Medical Board, I learned several interesting things:

First, it was obvious that I wasn't the first person to have, um, issues with the Montgomery County Medical Society, but that they weren't at liberty to discuss this in any detail. That's because of the second thing I learned: the "Medical Society" is simply an association of providers who pay dues for, well, whatever the Society does for them. They apparently have no power (nor, apparently, desire) to discipline errant physicians. That's up to the State Medical Board, which is the actual government agency which oversees physicians (and, one presumes) other providers. They do have a formal complaint process, of which I may or may not avail myself.

Needless to say, I won't be using that practice anymore: they've squandered my trust with "a note on the door."
blog comments powered by Disqus