Thursday, July 22, 2010

“Who are you?”

On June 3, I had an x-ray at Bleak House (i.e. Västmanland County Hospital/Centrallasarettet) of my kidney and bladder as a follow-up to surgery performed in March.

(Are you, faithful reader, as sick of reading about Bleak House as I am of writing about it? It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.)

I ask the nurse who does the x-ray when I will know the results. (I have some problems and really want to know what the x-ray shows.) She says if I don’t hear within a week that I should call.

A week later I call Radiology about the results. “X-ray results?!” the person answering the phone asks with astonishment. “That takes five weeks!” I explain that I was asked to call after a week. “Who told you that?” she asks. She then suggests that I call Urology since they ordered the x-ray.

It’s now almost mid-June and I’m going on vacation soon. I call Urology and explain that I will be going on vacation the following week and ask if I can find out the results before I leave. “The doctor just got the results yesterday!” says the nurse with exasperation. (Who do I think I am asking for such a quick response!)

A few days later the urologist calls me on my cell phone. I’m at a conference and cannot take the call. I ask if he can call the following day. No call. I call Urology again and ask if the doctor can call before Friday since that’s when I’m leaving town.

The urologist calls back. I explain that I want to know the results of the x-ray. He seems puzzled: “Who are you? What is your identification number?” He then asks, “Who ordered the x-ray?”

“Are you ______?” I ask. Yes. “You did,” I reply. By now it is clear he is stressed and doesn’t want to talk to me.

“The x-ray is normal,” he says suddenly.

I try to explain some concerns I have and to learn more about the x-ray. “I’ll explain it all in September,” he states, trying to end the call. (It's summer in Sweden. Nothing happens before September, even a report by phone about an x-ray done on June 3.)

How can he “explain it all” when he doesn’t even know what the problem is?

When I return from vacation in July, I call Urology. (“Urology. Nurse.” Is the curt greeting of the woman who answers the phone. I guess nurses who work there don’t have names.) I request a new doctor.

Consider it a vote of no confidence. I expect the doctor to know who he's talking to when he returns my call (a second time!) about the results of a test he ordered.


  1. Aarrggh! What a system. Sounds like the Swedish system is just as bad as the American one, but for different reasons. The Swedish system gets a D- on customer service and an F on follow-up. You can get excellent health care in the States if you're privileged enough to be wealthy and/or have good health coverage on the job (or, in my case, if your husband has good health coverage). If you're not one of the privileged few--or God forbid, you're one of the millions who have been laid off and are currently unemployed because we're in a recession--you're stuck with the E.R., Urgent Care, or no care at all. Normal people cannot afford to pay for their own health insurance because the premiums are ridiculous. Again I say, AARRRGGH!

  2. What really fascinates me is how low the standards have fallen. In Sweden, for example, who decided that a 3-6 month wait for treatment is acceptable? In some cases, it may be "reasonable;" in others, absolutely not. Why do people "accept" a 5-week wait for x-ray results? Why aren't they screaming and demanding higher quality and more timely care? I guess it's one of those diffuse issues that no one really cares about until it happens to them. We're told it's a question of money. And I won't deny that. But many of the issues I've presented on this blogsite have little to do with money. (I think many are indicative of poor management and demoralized staff.) They're about treating patients with respect and dignity. And there's no excuse for lack of that.


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