Patient Experience: $871 And Hold Your Breath

To be transparent, when I enter a hospital as a patient I should probably hang a sign around my neck, “You may be in my next blog.”

Did you know that if you shuffle a pack of cards properly, chances are that the exact order of the cards after shuffling has probably never been seen before in the history of the universe? Another fun fact is that 10! (factorial) seconds is exactly six weeks.

Patient access blog fodder. Sometimes the simplicity of what is dysfunctional is so obvious as to make me wonder why we cannot just set aside five minutes a fix it.

The admissions clerk at my hospital told me the charge for my ultrasound would be $871. 871 is not a prime number, but since the admissions process had run beyond fifteen minutes, I thought I would add a little something to the discussion just to entertain myself during the doldrums. “Take the number 871,” I told her, “And reverse the digits to create a new number; 178. Subtract 178 from 871. Add the resulting number, 693, to the result of itself, 396, and you get 1089.” This actually works with any three-digit number whose digits are decreasing, but I did not tell her that.

Eight hundred and seventy one dollars. Not $870; not $900. It struck me as a bit odd to be able to pinpoint it to a specific dollar, especially since health systems do not know what any procedure costs. I asked a supervisor about the price.  “We do not know what something costs, we only know what we charge.”

“Does anyone know what it costs?” I asked. She told me I was wasting her time and mine with my silly questions.

Anyway, the outpatient admissions process, at a hospital where I was already in their computer system, took seventeen minutes. I gave her my phone number 4 times, my address twice, and the name of my first girlfriend once.

I asked if I could have pre-admitted myself online. She said she did not know, but she told me that the pre-admit process should have been done on the phone to save me all of these minutes. I asked if the process would have been shorter had I done it on the phone and she said it would not have been. “How then would that have saved me any time?” I asked.

By then, her eyes looked like she was in a death spiral. My eyes looked the same.

I was escorted to the waiting area. The television show, “What’s My Price” was playing loudly through the television speakers. A collection of pre-WWII magazines was scattered among the waiting room’s Formica side tables.

The rest of the ultrasound went smoothly, more or less. “Hold your breath…okay, breath.” A new radiology technician was undergoing training. Apparently the person doing her training had glossed over the part of the training relating to the bit where she was supposed to reply, “Okay, breath.”

Note to health system executives: Try and schedule an appointment—mine required three phone calls and several minutes on hold. After that, go through the admissions process and see how that leaves you feeling.

A remarkable experience for every person at any time on any device.

Or not.

None of this is rocket surgery.

3 thoughts on “Patient Experience: $871 And Hold Your Breath

  1. Paul- another great blog! The 871 blog. And I think you’ve hit on new catch phrase for HC: it’s not rocket surgery! Love it.

    Dan Sent from my iPhone


  2. Sounds about right.

    I do business with many organizations where it seems nobody knows anything about anything. It seems this state of affairs is a matter of little consequence to them.

    The French seem to have figured things out – I love the word “préposé” – it seems to translate to “someone who is there”, with no intended indication of level of knowledge or authority.

    If anything, the word seems to be a heads-up that the person is not in a position to make any decisions, and not necessarily knowledgeable about anything, so why do they need to know anything or be able to make any decisions?

    I suspect a larger segment of people in the workforce should be called “préposé” instead of “employee”.

    Some of these folks are knowledgeable and would very much like to be authorized to make decisions but the organizations that hire them go to lengths to prevent them being helpful and productive.


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