Doctor! Doctor!


By Guest Blogger: Jessica Greenfield Harthcock

When you move to a new city, it can be exasperating finding the right doctor. You have to narrow the search to a physician in your insurance network, schedule a “new patient” appointment, fill out sheets of paperwork explaining your medical history including hospitalization stays, surgeries, medications, etc. While this is frustrating for the majority of the American population, if you have a spinal cord injury – multiply that frustration by 100!!

Where does one even start? This was my dilemma when I moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to attend LSU as an undergraduate student. I was very excited about this new adventure I had embarked upon. Things were fine and dandy. I was adjusting well, until I started the dreaded “Find a New Doctor” search. I had one criterion: I wanted to see a doctor that had seen a spinal cord injury patient before. Is that too much to ask?

I turned to where most people might turn to when they are in search of something – Google. (For the sake of keeping this blog post semi-short, I will use the example of a finding a family care practitioner…one of the many doctors I needed to unearth.)

I ‘googled’ my life away for hours trying to locate a family care doctor. While searching, I also had my insurance portal pulled up, cross checking the docs to ensure they were in network. After two solid days of searching, I compiled a decent list of about 20 physicians. The next day, I started making phone calls. Most of the phone calls went a little something like this:

Doctor’s Office: Hi, this is an automated attendant. To better assist you, we have changed our menu options. Please listen to the following options and select the option that best fits you. To schedule an appointment, press 1…(blah, blah, blah)

(5 minutes later)

Operator: Hi, how may I assist you today?

Me: I recently moved to town and I am looking for a family care practitioner. I’d like to see a doctor that is somewhat knowledgeable about spinal cord injuries/or who has seen at least an SCI patient before. Do you know of anyone in your office that has seen as SCI patient before?

Operator: (awkward silence) Hmmmm….I’m really not sure.

Me: Ok, I’ve looked online and see that Dr. John and Dr. Bob are in my network. Could you connect me to one of their nurses so I can leave a message for them?

Operator: I guess. Don’t y’all have specialists you see? (seriously?!?!)

Me: Yes, SCI patients typically see (insert list here). But, like most people, I need a family care practitioner as well.

Operator: Oh. (more awkward silence)

Me: Could you transfer me to Dr. John or Dr. Bob’s nurse?

(and the saga continues….)

I made many phone calls; I spoke with many people; I left many messages. Still, no luck on finding a family care practitioner that had seen a SCI patient before. I gave up and made an appointment with a doctor I found online. His name was Dr. Douglas. My new criterion: He had to look friendly in his picture.

I scheduled an appointment for a week later. I printed out all the pre-paper work ahead of time. I attached a medical history sheet (I always keep one in a word doc…saves lots of time).

When I met with Dr. Douglas, I explained my extensive history. He said they he didn’t know a lot about SCI’s but he was willing to learn as much as he possibly could to better treat me. He also said that I would need to be very upfront in what I needed. After all, I know my body better than anyone. Dr. Douglas learned from me as well.

(fast forward three years)

Dr. Douglas was hands down one of these best doctors I have ever seen (and I’ve seen too many to count). Every time I came in for an appointment, he surprised me with his knowledge about SCI’s. He even pointed out things I didn’t know about (i.e., new medications for SCI patients). If I was sick, I spoke with his nurse who would get me in the same/or next day.

Moral of the story – If you are able to find a doctor who is willing to take a little extra time to learn about your condition, you will be better cared for than being a patient of a physician who has developed a process medical practice.

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