I’ve been thinking about how awful U.S. healthcare is the past couple weeks, based on my latest experience as a patient. It’s made me wonder if there’s any lesson to be learned for the biotech business. And here’s what I keep coming back to: Healthcare innovators who want to prosper need to find new ways to engage with patients, and really help them, outside the usual channels offered by the hospital-insurance-industrial complex.
OK, let me back up and explain where this is coming from.
Just having finished up my usual morning run on Friday, July 15, as I was getting ready to jump in the shower, I was hit with a major back spasm. Intense pain shot up my spine, as my lower back muscles flexed and wouldn’t let go of my nerves. This has happened twice before, so I knew what to do. I carefully hobbled about three steps into my living room, and laid down flat on the floor with my feet propped up on a chair. My wife got me a couple of ibuprofen and an ice pack. I figured I’d lay there a few hours, let everything relax a bit, and probably shuffle off to work that afternoon with some stiffness.
But this wasn’t like those minor spasms of before. A few hours later, the pain was so intense that I lost consciousness when trying to stand. When I woke up on the floor, I figured, that was kind of scary. Time to call the doctor.
And that’s when things really got worse. Partly because I’m young, have no chronic conditions, and exercise fanatically, I’ve never developed a relationship with a physician. I’m fortunate to have very good health insurance, which I figured was there in case I ever got in a serious car accident. But this episode was concerning—I’ve never fainted before—so I figured it would be wise to call the 24-hour nurse hotline to see if I needed to get emergency help.
Sure enough, the operator at this organization (which shall remain nameless), told me to come in to an urgent care clinic to get checked out. So I manage to hobble into the passenger seat of a car, as my wife drove.
Once there, it couldn’t have been any more clear what this “urgent care” place was about—getting my insurance papers squared away. When that was taken care of, there was nothing urgent about this place, and it certainly didn’t care. The waiting room only had a couple other people there on a Friday afternoon. One nurse asked me a few basic questions, the same questions I had already answered an hour earlier over the phone with this same health organization.
After about a half hour, I got to see the doctor—in this case a physician’s assistant. I didn’t carry a stopwatch, but this exam lasted less than five minutes. The doctor shined a light in my eyes to see my pupils were OK. Then she had me stand up, put her hands on my hips and lower back, and asked me try to lean left, right, forward, and back. I could move a couple inches in every direction. I was able to move my legs, and didn’t have pain shooting down either one—everything was concentrated in the back.
“Yep, it’s back spasms,” she said. She prescribed a muscle relaxant, the addictive painkiller acetaminophen and hydrocodone (Vicodin), and told me to rest all weekend.
It should be fine in a few days, she said. Happens all the time.
OK, like a wiseguy, I asked, how do you know that’s really it? “From the physical exam,” she retorted, sounding unamused. Then I really crossed the line.
“Once this heals, what can I do to prevent this from happening again?” I asked.
She looked at me as if I had just uttered a phrase in Klingon. “There’s nothing you can do. These things happen all the time,” she said with a furrowed brow. Dumb question, I guess.
And then, like a flash, she was gone. No further instructions, like call her if things aren’t better by Monday. It was just time to go the pharmacy, then home.
All I could think about on the way home was … Next Page »
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