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Genius at Kaiser Permanente

Posted Apr 06 2011 9:52am
I'm no fan of big insurance companies, but this article in the New York Times today had me applaud Kaiser Permanente.  Click here to read the whole thing:  Kaiser Permanente Opens Clinic in Washington DC

Here's what I loved about this health care reform story
  • The insurance company is so fed up with Washington DC politics - and the fact that they have been handling health insurance "right" but keep getting beaten up by the politicians - that they decided to take the battle to Washington DC.
  • But instead of lobbyists or protests or just whining....they build a health clinic.
  • The clinic allows patients to email or call their doctors.

It's that last point in the story that made me applaud. I was so fed up with my doctor last spring.  Every time I wanted to ask him a question about  something. I called his office;  his staff said I had to make an appointment. They actually REFUSED to take a message.  I have never had a doctor's office refuse to take a message.  I lost my temper with them and when I finally saw him in the forced face to face appointment, I took him to task.

I said, "I have a quick question that would take 2 minutes of your time by telephone. Instead, I have to pay $30, wait an hour to be shown into an exam room and then another 20 minutes before you breeze in here. Then you answer my question in TWO MINUTES and agree it could have been answered over the phone.  But you won't take or return phone calls. Why?"

"That's just my policy" he said before breezing out again.

Well, I'm sorry but in today's day and age....that kind of answer is no longer acceptable.

My former doc in NY (who is no longer in practice, sadly) used to have me email her with updates or call them in to her nurse.  She would telephone me with blood test results even if they were normal. The conversations were short, professional, and to the point, but she wasn't afraid to make them.  I used to watch her in the office. She would see her patient and return to her office to make quick phone calls.  She always saw me on time. I never had to wait an hour.  Once her office kept me waiting for half an hour and someone came out an apologized to me, explaining that they had a serious emergency case.  I said no problem and waited.  I don't know what magic she had except that she had been a nurse, an RN, before returning to school to become a physician, and I suspect she had a different approach to patient care.  She was certainly an excellent educator and took time to answer questions - via phone, email or in person in her office!

I know doctors are busy.  I resent, however, being forced to spend half a day (which is what all that time, including travel from my rural home to the town where the office is located) and $30 bucks just to get a two minute answer to a question.

As a health writer, it's almost a joke that I have to include these magic words "See your doctor with any questions you may have about your health" blah blah blah when I write about something perfectly innocuous just to keep the ambulance chasers and the government bodies off my clients' backs.  Yet to see your doctor you have to pay lots of money, spend a lot of your time and more. 

Kaiser Permanente, on the other hand, recognizes that quick questions can be handled by email and phone.

Hey, an intelligent solution!  Cost savings! Time savings for patient and doctor....answers

Keep it going, Kaiser.  Don't give up.  Better yet, have the politicians so keen on the 1,000 page monstrosity known as the "health reform act" actually talk to people with IDEAS about true health care reform.  You have a potential solution; it's been tested in two states; it keeps costs down and apparently provides health care to many.  I hope it succeeds and I hope others learn from your success.
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