Bee investigator: Visiting ER? Good luck

snowicki@modbee.comAugust 4, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textSue Nowicki
    Title: Columnist, Faith & Family reporter
    Coverage areas: Weekly consumer column, plus features and news stories
    Bio: Sue Nowicki has worked at The Bee since 1982. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from The University of Missouri, Columbia, and enjoys answering readers' questions and telling their stories.
    Recent stories written by Sue
    E-mail: snowicki@modbee.com

I'm baaaccckkkk!

What? You didn't miss me? My column and I have been gone for a few weeks. Let's just say I went to great lengths to go undercover for you, dear Bee readers. Here's some of what I learned:

• Don't go to a hospital emergency room if you can avoid it.

• If you can't avoid it, don't go on a weekend.

• About the only thing fast in an emergency room is the speed with which they ask you to pay for your visit.

• I must admit they're efficient at sending you quickly for various tests. But the sheer number of folks waiting for help means you feel like you're part of a cattle drive as you're herded into tiny, curtained rooms for hours until the overworked emergency doctor can see you. And, really, you do want him to first take care of the man groaning loudly a few feet away and the woman across the aisle whose condition causes three nurses to don full body armor before entering her cubicle.

• You may feel neglected when the doctor comes in to say he'll be back as soon as the results of your tests arrive, only to discover four hours later that he left for the day two hours earlier. Don't take it personally; he obviously didn't.

• Have you seen those recent ads and news stories that claim hospitals are actively working to make the hospital experience less stressful and more like a resort spa? Ha! They belong on the best-selling fiction list.

• If you are admitted, the wait doesn't get any better. It was nearly 24 hours before I saw another doctor. I told my husband I was almost ready to have him wheel my hospital bed down to the front entrance so I could hold up a sign that read, "Warning: No doctors here."

• Do you know what hospitalists are? I'd heard of them, but now I understand the snippets of criticism I've encountered. Hospitalists are doctors hired by the hospitals to oversee the care of the patients. From the hospital's standpoint, it makes sense to use them. Instead of having hundreds of patients' personal doctors coming into the hospital, ordering tests or telling the nurses what special care is needed, the hospitalists should theoretically make that care easier, more streamlined and efficient.

But the hospitalists have no history with you, don't know your medical background or personal quirks, and have too many patients to really focus on your care. And although one hospitalist is supposed to oversee your entire hospital stay, you may have a different one from day to day.

My first hospitalist came in and told me something dumb. I won't be specific, but it was like telling a pneumonia patient that he had a mild cough. The next day, a new hospitalist told me she was ordering a test. When I asked if she would come later that day to give me the results, she said she would if she could. When I pinned her down (and you know from past columns that I love to do that), she admitted she probably would not be back, as she had20 patients to see. She was right; I never saw her again.

I would much prefer to see my doctor and have him coordinate my care.

• Is it really necessary to wake patients up every four hours to take their vitals? If someone is stable, couldn't you let them sleep through the night and heal more quickly?

• The nurses and technicians were fabulous. The only exception was the nurse who inexplicably asked at 4:30 a.m. if she could talk to me about some nonessential item for the next day. No. I am trying to sleep. Be quiet.

• The whole experience, however, was put into perspective when friends — a married couple — came to visit. They reminded me that the husband had been a few doors down last year. It was uncertain whether he would live, much less walk again. Yet he had played golf earlier that day, and you'd never know by looking at him that he ever had a problem. Thanks to the hospital and staff — even the hospitalists — here he was looking fit and healthy and cracking jokes. OK, I'm thankful, too.

• Three weeks later, the hospital had billed my insurance company, adjusted the costs accordingly, received the insurance payment and was asking me to remit the rest. Wow. Now that's speedy.

What's new with you? More importantly, what's bugging you?

I'm ready to pin officials down to answer your questions. Don't forget to include your name and phone number.

Send questions to Sue Nowicki at snowicki@modbee.com, fax to(209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.

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