Monday, July 24, 2006

Hot under the collar...

...and it isn't because of the weather.

I spent part of my day attempting to reason with an office worker in a physician's office and found the doctor obstinate. The short version of the story is that my mother has requested copies of her records numerous times from this doctor who bought out my mother's primary physician's practice (and files evidently) and refuses to release the records until my mother pays for them. You'd think it would be illegal to charge for medical records, and it is, but Ohio passed a revision to the Ohio medical code that states a physician may charge for copying a patient's records and lists caps on those charges.

My mother was a patient of the original doctor since 1969 and her medical history is complex and extensive, covering 36 years. According to Sharon, the new doctor's secretary, a ball park estimate for copying the chart is in excess of $100 and probably closer to $200. Not only that, but when I requested the doctor call me back when she returned from lunch and gave my phone number Sharon said the doctor would not call me back because it was a long distance call. I told Sharon to have the doctor reverse the charges.

After waiting a considerable amount of time (three hours) I called the doctor's office and asked for Sharon. When Sharon came to the phone she said she received my fax, containing my letter to the doctor, the letter from my mother's new doctor's office saying they were unable to obtain her records because of the charges and the signed consent to release her records, and had dictated a letter to be sent to me. In effect, the doctor still refuses to copy the records without being paid first but would be glad to talk to the new doctor and answer any specific questions he might have, despite the fact that she was not my mother's primary physician and knows nothing about the medical history. I suggested that since the original primary physician, from whom the doctor bought the practice, is now retired and since she was never my mother's doctor she should box the records up and send them to the new primary physician. That suggestion hit a steel wall at 100 mph. "By law we must keep all records for five years," Sharon said.

I did some more checking and Sharon is indeed wrong. There is no stated time limit for retaining old records and a retiring doctor may appoint a custodian for his patient's records. Considering the fact that the doctor has never treated my mother and is not her doctor, and since the original doctor may name a custodian, I wrote to the retiring doctor and suggested he make my mother's new doctor custodian of her medical records and request Sharon's boss box up my mother's files and send them to the new primary physician. Since I am not allowed to talk to the Sharon's boss directly (Yes, I asked) and since I cannot find a current address for the retiring doctor, I did the next best thing. I wrote a letter to the doctor, attached copies of my fax and the information I sent Sharon's boss and sent it to his old address. I'm sure the U. S. Post Office will be glad to forward his mail to him. It will take a little longer but I'm certain he will get the letter and the attachments. I also sent a copy to Sharon's boss in which I mentioned that I had contacted the Ohio Medical Board and the U. S. Dept of Health and filed complaints and that I have also contacted The Columbus Dispatch and been approved to write an article about what patients don't know about their rights and the costs doctors won't tell you about. In fact, the editor at the Dispatch was glad to hear from me and work with me once again. We do have a history.

I am perfectly willing to be reasonable and have offered several solutions, all of which have been met with immediately negative responses. I even called the doctor's Hippocratic oath into question and mentioned malpractice if something happens to my mother because she refused to release my mother's records without payment first.

When it gets right down to it I just do not understand what happened to people. This doctor, who makes far more than I do, won't call me because it would be long distance. She is more worried about the money and time involved in making medical records available to a patient who has asked for them and gone through the normal channels several times over the past few months (even going so far as to say she never received a signed consent for release of the records even though my mother signed one in their office and her doctor has sent several signed and dated consents over the past months) than in whatever misdiagnosis or lack of treatment a patient receives. How did we get to this point where money is more important than people and doctors can no longer be trusted to care for the people they got into medicine to help?

Any wonder why I'm hot under the collar?

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