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Waiting is an exercise in frustration

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As a Johnston County resident who’s an octogenarian, the quality and efficiency of my health care is vital to my sense of well-being. My guess is this is true of anyone, regardless of age, who is dependent on our county’s health-care services.

I am fortunate in that I have the benefits of Medicare and a supplementary policy that covers the vast majority of my medical expenses. Many in Johnston County are not as fortunate.

My continuing battle with my health care is the growing length of the time it takes to get an appointment with a medical specialist, not to mention my own primary care doctor.

I am not alone.

“Emerging evidence shows that it’s now become the norm in many parts of the country for patients to endure lengthy wait times to see a physician, particularly in primary care but also for specialists,” according to the Medical Group Management Association, or MGMA. “This includes patients who have private insurance, as well as those with Medicaid or Medicare.”

In an article for Forbes, writer Bruce Japsen notes that “patients are waiting an average of 24 days to schedule an appointment with a doctor.” And he adds that doctor wait times have soared 30 percent.

Japsen further writes — and this is most accurate in my personal experiences in Johnston County — that “finding a physician who can see you today, or even three weeks from today, can be a challenge.”

“The challenge becomes even more difficult in smaller communities that have fewer physicians per population,” he adds.

Why are longer waiting times so significant to patients? According to the MGMA:

• The patient’s condition may deteriorate while waiting, and in some cases the effectiveness of the proposed treatment may be reduced.

• Waiting can be extremely distressing for the patient.

• The patient’s family life may be adversely affected by the waiting.

• The patient’s employment circumstances may be adversely affected by the waiting.

My current medical-care stress stems from some of the above.

My primary care physician had referred me to a pulmonary specialist at a particular medical center in Raleigh. I was to anticipate a call for an appointment for an initial visit. I waited. Then, I waited some more. Silence.

I then called my primary care physician’s office asking that my doctor call the pulmonary specialist on my behalf to get the appointment. Apparently, my request fell on deaf ears.

Next came my Irish temper.

I picked up my phone and dialed the general number of the hospital in which the pulmonary specialist practiced. Once connected with the operator, I gave her a very specific request, which she seemed to quickly grasp. “I want to speak to an actual human being in the hospital’s pulmonology diagnosis department,” I said. “I will not talk to another machine recorded voice and leave a message that will never be returned.”

I was on hold for almost two full minutes. Finally, I was connected to a live person who could help schedule that appointment for an initial visit. I accomplished this not with the assistance of our medical-care system, but in spite of it.

My advice to all reading this column, especially senior citizens, is to assert yourself when you suspect your physician’s office is only going to do the bare minimum on your behalf. You have power. Use it.

Ned Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker and former executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity. Email him at nedward425@nc.rr.com.

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