* * Anonymous Doc: "I assumed I was fine, since no one dragged me, kicking and screaming, into surgery."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"I assumed I was fine, since no one dragged me, kicking and screaming, into surgery."

"So, I see in your chart that you were supposed to follow up with a gastroenterologist a few months ago, have an MRI, and potentially surgery."


"But that didn't happen--"

"Yeah, I saw the doctor, he said I needed surgery, but then he never called back to schedule it."

"Did you call to follow up?"

"I called once, but didn't get a call back.  I figured the doctor decided I didn't need the surgery after all."

"Because he didn't call you back?"


"But you didn't pursue it-- you just assumed that he secretly decided you didn't need surgery, and thought the best plan of action would be not to tell you that."

"When you say it like that..."

"I apologize on behalf of that doctor that he didn't call you back.  Of course he should have called you back. But that doesn't mean you didn't need surgery."

"But he didn't call me back."

"No one's going to make you have surgery."

"Okay, great!"

"No, it's not great!  You're the one in charge of your own health.  Just because a doctor doesn't hound you to do something doesn't mean that if there's a problem, it's going to go away.  You're the one who ultimately is going to deal with the consequences, so it's in your best interest to take ownership and follow up.  I'm not saying the doctor doesn't care if you live or you die, but we have lots of patients, things fall through the cracks-- it's unfortunate, but inevitable.  You have to be your own advocate.  You have to follow up.  Someone tells you that you need surgery, you need to call back and schedule it.  Or at least call back until you get to speak to the doctor and hear him tell you he changed his mind, and explain why.  It is your health."

"But I didn't want the surgery anyway."

"Not even if you need it?"

"No, I want it if I need it."

"No one's going to force you.  That's not what doctors do, or at least not what they do anymore.  You need to take ownership."

"He should have called me back."

"Yes, absolutely.  But your body doesn't care!  If something's wrong with you, it's still a problem even if the doctor doesn't call you back.  Your blood test results are really not good.  There is really something wrong.  And, yes, of course your doctor should call you back, but you have twelve different doctors, and not everyone looks at every test result, and it's frustrating, sure-- but you have to be the one looking out for yourself."

"So what do I do now?"

"I'm going to give you a referral to a different gastroenterologist, and I want you to make an appointment, and go see him, and then we'll go from there."

"Will this one call me back?"

"I don't know.  But it doesn't matter.  If he doesn't call you back, you call him back.  Call him back until his secretary puts him on the phone.  Pretend it's a matter of life or death.  Because it might be!"

"It's his job to call me back."

"It's his job to do surgery.  You'd rather he be good at doing surgery than be good at calling you back, I promise."

"He should still call me back."

"Absolutely.  And I shouldn't be two hours behind on my clinic appointments, but I am.  I will call you in a week.  I will write a note to myself to do that.  But if I don't-- call the clinic next week and ask to speak to me.  It's okay.  You're allowed to do that."


  1. Man, you're stepping on my toes this morning. I recently saw a gastroenterologist who never called me with test results. I called 5 times, and he never called me back. So I decided to really stick it to him by suffering in private. HA! Take that!

    The only difference between your patient and me is that I would never admit what I did to another physician. Well, except on a blog since you're anonymous and all ;)

    1. What Catie said. It's also really fun dealing with rude receptionists when you get insistent about being called back. Not that you shouldn't anyway.... but yeah, I get where this guy is coming from.

    2. I am so so so so so super proactive about my health it's not even funny!!!! I also change providers when I feel I'm not being heard (in my visit with the provider or not being called back). Also you can ask to speak to the doctor's personal nurse. That always gets the ball rolling...

  2. A couple years ago I was hospitalized for pneumonia. I was supposed to call back to get a follow up assessment a week after I got out of the hospital. I called back over and over to get the assessment and not only did I not ever get to talk to the doctor but I was charged $20 for each call.

    You might want to talk to your patient, assuming he ever comes back, what his previous experience with doctors was like.

  3. I totally agree with Anonymous - there is absolutely nothing like being told in an appointment that you need surgery or a major referral or test and to ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY call in a week if you don't have the date...
    and then never hear anything back...
    so in a week you call...
    and call...
    AND CALL...
    and three weeks later finally some nurse picks up, tells you everything is fine, stop calling, and the doctor will see you in six months.
    Because that's totally the patient's fault, right.

  4. I just fired the idiot and found another doctor.