A Case of the Flu.

Posted by Phil Dougherty
February 26, 2015

2015 started with a bang…actually with a cough.  Like many in my circle of friends and acquaintances, I got the flu.  After a few days of suffering, I found myself on a Saturday morning in mid-January with a choice to make. Do I continue with my Nyquil binge and wait till Monday to see my doctor or head out now to visit an Urgent Care center?  

Urgent care services have found a nice niche in our healthcare system. You can avoid the higher cost of a hospital emergency room for a non-emergency, which was my case, and they fit nicely in our “need to know now” mentality. I knew this could cost me hundreds, but perhaps I could rule out strep or bronchitis or, if I wasn’t so lucky, get a jump on it with an antibiotic. Note: For those of us with HSA-compatible health insurance with no copays for office visits, urgent care, or prescriptions, we ponder these decisions more carefully weighing our pain and suffering against our anticipated out-of-pocket costs. It was a tough choice but made easier by my family who handed me a jacket and scarf and sent me on my way. 

I envisioned a full waiting room with fellow flu sufferers so I brought reading material. To my surprise, I was alone. After 15 minutes with the front desk clerk disclosing my personal information (that I pray ends up on a secure database somewhere), I was assigned a sterile room complete with a fresh paper liner. Over the next 45 minutes, I was visited by not two, but three healthcare professionals. First, an intake nurse took my vitals and swabbed my throat for the quickie strep test. Then, after testing negative, I was visited by a doctor who gave some valuable insights but no solution. It could be viral and heal itself; I could start an antibiotic on Monday if I didn’t improve on my own, etc. After all this, I decided to wait till Monday to see my personal doctor.

As I prepared to leave the center, and to my surprise, I was told to wait for the exit nurse for instructions. Come again? I’m all for procedures, but this was a bit over the top. I knew my instructions; stay miserable for two more days and then see my doctor Monday for some drugs. The actual instructions given by the exit nurse amounted to common sense home remedies which of course included, drum roll…”drink lots of fluids”.  So for an hour visit to urgent care for the flu, which included encounters with four staff (one clerical, two nurses and one doctor), I received information that could have been obtained from a good Google search. Half my time was spent waiting for an inconclusive result and no remedy.

So what is the point here, choose Nyquil next time?  Perhaps. It would have saved me hundreds of dollars. Or is it that there is waste and abuse in our healthcare system. Duh.  But as I consider this, I think the bigger point is accessing information. Information is everywhere and, like many of you, I love how easy it is to access. The information I received from urgent care is exactly what my Google search returned (resource: the Mayo Clinic), which included of course…“drink lots of fluids”.  Technology is making the accessibility of more and more information easier so we can make more informed decisions about how to spend our time and money. 

Urgent care was not a complete waste. I ruled out complications and appeased family members. But in addition to this example, I find the more I embrace and use technology to solve simple tasks (dare I say it, and avoid human contact), I’m often delighted with the result. For example, in my need for a recent lab test I Googled “Quest Labs” for directions and discovered I could make an appointment online. I did so and, after entering a full waiting room at my scheduled time, was whisked by many restless, envious, and sick patients straight to the lab room for my tests. No waiting on hold to schedule an appointment or suffering in a crowded waiting room. That doesn’t excuse companies for poor service, but good service now comes in different forms.

The power of the internet is not a revelation, but the healthcare industry is embracing it full throttle.  Insurance companies, healthcare providers, pharmacies, heck, even your local plumber are investing in technology and avoiding adding extra staff to solve simple requests. While holding on the phone for a company representative, healthcare or otherwise, we are often reminded that most of the answers are available on their website. That should tell us where companies are investing and where they want us to go. Whether it’s information that saves me a trip to a provider (and being stuck in traffic) or scheduling an appointment, embracing technology can save us time, money and frustration.

More next time of what the future holds.

Phil Dougherty