Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hospitals Don't Set Doctor's Appointments

I have been a bit sick the past few days with a few symptoms popping up here and there: slight short headaches, eye pain, sinus pain, extra runny nose, inability to smell even strong odors at point-blank distances, sore throat, clogged lungs with a not so frequent difficulty of breathing, thick dark-green phlegm, and some movement issues. So, I thought that it would be a good idea to take some time off from school so that I wouldn't spread anything. I wanted to get a doctor's excuse for my teachers. The hospital on campus doesn't give excuses anymore because it was being abused and the doctors were being overworked with people just trying to get out of class. Furthermore, "these excuses are often requested after recovery from an illness or injury and do not, in fact, reflect any interaction with a health care provider." (Mary Serafini) That makes a lot of sense. So, I went to Washington Regional Memorial Hospital to get an excuse from there after actually making an "interaction with a health care provider." The conversation with the receptionist was disappointing. The receptionist asked if she could help. "I need a doctor's excuse for today and tomorrow," I said. Receptionist, "You'll need an appointment." "Can I set one up with you?" "No, we don't set up appointments here." [What the heck?] "You would need to get an order to get an appointment." I asked, "How do I get one of those?" "You would need to go to a clinic. They would send over an order to have us run test on you. Then, you could get an appointment to have someone look at those tests." I just nodded and mouthed, "Complicated." "Yeah, it's complicated," she responded. So, I just apologized and left. Why was I apologizing? I don't know - wasting her time, wasting mine? Probably just something that I do by default. At first, I was just going to go ahead and jump through all of the hoops. I knew that they were just trying to bully students out of getting fake excuses, but that didn't apply to me. It soon came to my attention, however, that all of this jumping around to see people and get testing costs money, especially for the 20% of students who don't have insurance. (New York Times) Free clinics have waiting lists that can be up to three months long according to my mom's personal experience with setting up appointments for my step-dad. I could get better and sick again - of waiting - in all that time. That's a little too much to have to go through to get an excuse for missing some classes. It's really unfair, now that teachers take points off of students grades for poor attendance unless a doctor's excuse is given. The craziest thing is that a doctor's excuse ultimately doesn't have much value.

"Practitioners often have difficulty making an assessment on the appropriateness of an excuse. For example, some students with simple colds request a medical excuse while others with similar illnesses appear to be able to attend class. [Why should I be punished because other sick people go to school and work when they really shouldn't?] Since medical providers are, by definition, the patient’s advocate; we are not in a position to judge motives of patients in an attempt to determine whether any given request for an excuse is valid. In addition, many requests are made by students who may have been legitimately impaired, but who were unable to visit a clinician at that time of the illness. It is difficult and often impossible to assess the seriousness of a condition retroactively in the absence of signs or symptoms." (Elizabeth Woods)

Basically, since doctors can't tell who has been sick from who has a runny nose, no doctor's excuse is really valid. So, why are we thrown through hoops for something that has no worth to begin with? The policy needs to be changed a bit. Fortunately, teachers give two or three free days before they actually start deducting points from a students grade. I guess that they already know that this whole thing is a broken system.

Mary Serafini - Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs/Director, Pat Walker Health Center

New York Times

Elizabeth Woods, M.D. - Medical Chief of Staff, Pat Walker Health Center

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