Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Snarky Form Letters v. Real Communication

Heigh-ho, faithful few…

It is probably symptomatic of my somewhat melancholy nature that I am moved to post about some continuing unfortunate correspondence, while still having not yet uploaded photos of Ben’s happy graduation and party…I still intend to do that.

However, since this blog often serves as cheap therapy for me, and an effective means of processing *German accent* schtuff, here I am again.

Likely I am only exercised about this particular matter because it has to do with Ben’s health, for which we have considerable spiritual and emotional concern and investment (as most parents do for their offspring). And we will never be done being thankful, not only for God’s healing of Ben, but for the overwhelming love and support we received from so many.

But, to resume my tale: Here I was, contentedly at home, washing dishes and minding my own business, when the doorbell rang, heralding the arrival of our faithful postman. No mysterious packages this time. Nope; instead a registered letter from Ben’s erstwhile endocrinologist. My heart sank.

Why, you ask? Well, the brief history is thus: some months back, Ben had an afternoon appointment with Dr. C. When I went to pick him up from school, he had forgotten the appointment, which necessitated my going in to the school office and having him paged. He’s an 18-year-old and another medical appointment was not exactly at the top of his list. Needless to say, we arrived 20 minutes late. I will not mention that we have often had to wait to see doctors, including this one. And their time is indisputably valuable. We were curtly informed that we had missed the appointment, the doctor had returned to the hospital, etc. This was clearly our fault. We made a new appointment.

However—and this is my gripe—the mindless, soul-less, automated System In Place kicked out to us an even more curt form letter (I won’t mention the various careless errors therein, including a reference to Ben as “she”) warning us that we were on the precipice of being Discharged, and that a new appointment needed to made post-haste. Hmmmm…

Being communicative by nature, I felt the urge—which I should have resisted—to reply politely that we, in fact, did appear for our appointment, albeit late; I apologized sincerely, and had—in fact—made another appointment, which I assured The System we would keep. Of course, you know what’s coming…

Since I had expended more emotional energy on this incident than was warranted, my trusty mate assured me that he would take Ben to the newly scheduled appointment…and then forgot, as did Ben. Thud. ANYthing would have been better than this. Even worse, for reasons still mysterious to me, the needed phone call to the doctor’s office to acknowledge and apologize for this lapse was not made until AFTER yours truly received a—you guessed it—snarky call from said office. I needed a stiff drink.

But, alas, we do not keep alcohol in the house, and for good reason. But, I digress…during this unpleasant phone call, I expressed our sincere apology and explained that we would happily pay for any missed appointment fees, etc. and understood that we were now discharged from Dr. C’s practice. Case closed…I sincerely hoped.

I also had it in mind to write a personal note to Dr. C., but I questioned whether he would ever actually see it, and my persistent Too-Busy, Approach-Avoidance complex set in; this remained a Good Intention, not acted upon (to end with a preposition).

Still, I was surprised to receive two copies of this letter a few minutes ago, which I had to sign for, etc. Curiously, I received the letter today, June 23, and the letter is dated “May, 13 2010” (sic). The boilerplate body of the letter again explains that “after careful consideration…I have decided to discontinue my relationship as your child endocrinologist” (sic)---funny, he looked old enough to be an adult, to me—“effective thirty-(30) days from receipt of this letter”…no clue as to whether the 30 days was counted from “May, 13” or June 23…that must be the suspense element…

Further, we are exhorted to secure “the services of another provider as soon as possible to assure the continuity of your care.” This is the only positive part of this whole saga…that I am able to write him back and explain that, due to God’s healing, Ben is no longer a diabetic patient, as confirmed by his primary care physician, on the basis of Ben’s most recent lab report.

The reason I even go on about this subject is that the Official (not to mention unprofessional) nature of this correspondence so utterly differs from the actual, face-to-face relationship we had with Dr. C. These two experiences could not be more different.

When first breaking the news to us in the hospital about Ben’s DM1 diagnosis, Dr. C was kind, focused on us as people, and patiently informative. Our subsequent office visits were even more so, as he followed up his thorough examinations with sincere interest about Ben. Were it not for his facsimile signature at the bottom of the letter, I would not believe they involved the same person.

Of course, I understand that this is an automated chain of correspondence, no doubt executed accurately according to the computerized code that issued it. I’m sure Dr. C is somehow aware of our status. And he is in the business of providing expert care to patients, not in cultivating personal relationships. But, this seems not to be a very satisfactory explanation of the jarring discrepancy between personal contact and automated communication. Or, more precisely, such automated communication too often undercuts the real communication that may have been, and should be, established between doctor and patient.

Seriously...if communication is important--and it is--it should be the result of considerably more careful, thoughtful and professional effort than has been exhibited here.

Perhaps I am naïve; perhaps I have too much time on my hands—well, really, that’s not the case.

The final irony was too glaring to ignore…part of the letterhead includes this health system’s motto: “Respectful Care.”


  1. yup, real life makes us snarky if we let it. i think that is why the Bible states do not grow weary of well doing...cause the human side of us wants to respond in kind when such things happen.
    on a brighter note..thank the good Lord Ben is healed and you do not have to deal with them anymore

  2. Thanks, Guyanne...excellent reminders...I needed to hear.