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Obama and My Uncle Johnny


I was home relaxing when I received a call from Uncle Johnny.  When I saw on the Caller-ID that it was him, I braced myself.  Calls with my Uncle Johnny were never brief, by nature he was loud so I had to yell too, and his conversations always involved more than a few swear words.  My uncle has been described as a gun not a pistol, but a gun!

"Hey!  Uncle Johnny!'  What's up?" as I prepared myself for one of his unusual requests.

He began loudly, "Kafi!  I'm thinkin' I need you to write a letter for me to Obama!  I don't think he knows what's going on here with this health care thing, and I just thought I need to tell him.'' 

I was intrigued.  I asked "What's going on that you want me to tell the President about? What do you think he needs to know?"

"Well, I know he has this thing about electronic medical records." My uncle explained.  I was impressed; Uncle Johnny knew about EMRs! But they don't work!  A week ago I went to the hospital, see, to have my blood work done. Then, today I went back to my doctor who works upstairs for a follow up.  He was supposed to read the lab results and tell me what's wrong but he didn't have the results!'  That doesn't make any sense!'  I mean, he has the computer right there.  He can see that I went to the lab, but he can't see the results!  What the hell does he have the computer for then if he can't see the results?  So now, I got to make another appointment to go back to that doctor after I get the lab results from the hospital!'  It was a total waste of time.

Instantly, I understood what my uncle had encountered.  The doctor should have told him that it was my uncle's job to bring his lab results with him to his follow-up appointment or to call first to make sure the lab had sent them on.'  Uncle Johnny wrongly assumed that because his doctor's office was in the hospital where his blood was drawn, and both had computerized records, the doctor would be able to see is lab results on his computer.

I explained to my uncle that what he faced was the same thing that many of us have faced: there's a lot on us as patients that we don't realize and we're not told about.  Before we get to expensive -- but helpful -- electronic medical records, physicians can afford to implement a basic guide to their practices that makes clear the expectations they have for their patients, and what patients can expect from them.  There are other resources, including learning how to ask for medical records and test results, and creating online personal health records, that can help patients keep track of their information themselves.

In the end, we decided not to write a letter to President Obama, but we wrote one heck of a letter to his doctor!

More Blog Posts by Kafi Grigsby

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Health Information Technology   Kafi Grigsby   Find Good Health Care   Communicate with your Doctors   Inside Healthcare  

Comments on this post
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Sarah Jorgenson says
July 6, 2010 at 11:21 AM

Too many assumptions are made in the health care industry. Your story about Uncle Johnny beautifully exemplifies this. Doctors, nurses and staff assume patients understand how health care systems operate since health care professionals are immersed in that environment everyday. Simple improvements like a brochure that is a guide for the practice can be developed to minimize confusion and reduce false assumptions that patients understand the rules of a clinic. Developing this tool is not a magic wand to eliminate confusion and solve health care fragmentation. But, integrating distributing and talking with patients about the guide has the potential to improve the experience for patients and health care workers along with reducing costs and saving time. Every doctorâ??s office, every health plan, every hospital is different just like every patient is different. How your practice operates must be communicated to patients. Otherwise, the tests that were administered to your Uncle Johnny are of no use.

ECHowell says
July 11, 2010 at 7:26 PM

It is easier for a liberal arts undergrad to learn advanced statistics in a quantitative MBA program than it is for most Americans to understand the health care maze. I know this firsthand.

Uncle Johnny's assumption about his tests were logical. There are far less serious parts of our lives connected than our medical records. Why is it so hard for us to defragment where it matters most?

Thanks Kafi for doing your part!