Friday, September 20, 2013

Lack of faith through experience

It seems that every story I hear about a doctor's visit reduces my confidence in the health care system more and more. Darlene had severe pain in her elbow and extreme lack of mobility. She saw 3 different doctors (not different by choice) as the pain did not subside over the period of a week. Each doctor came up with a different diagnosis. One chalked it up to a nerve issue. Another said it was bursitis. Yet another said it was another one of those unexplained side effects of fibromyalgia. In fact it was neither of those things.

Darlene visited a physiotherapist who specializes in sports injuries. I won't go into how she managed to get to see this therapist, as she was not referred by any of the three doctors. In fact, even though she requested a referral to this physiotherapist that she had already been seeing for other treatments, the doctors would not oblige. Anyway, the physiotherapist asked what the doctors had done to determine the cause of her pain. When she told him, he was disappointed, but not surprised. A few quick checks and his diagnosis was complete. Darlene had suffered a sprained tricep that was affecting the bursae in her elbow. He was able to come to this conclusion with a few routine mobility and strength tests. He even had physiotherapist students, who happened to be present, to confirm his diagnosis with their own examinations. They all concluded the same thing.

The physiotherapist immediately applied ultrasound therapy to the affected area and arranged for a follow-up visit. He also dismissed the elbow brace that she was forced to buy on the doctor's recommendation and gave her a more suitable one.

If Darlene had not had an opportunity to see this physiotherapist for something unrelated, she would be suffering this injury much longer than necessary and possibly missing more work than necessary, as she uses her right arm to perform tasks that require precision, dexterity and strength. This is yet another symptom of what's wrong with our system. In an effort to save money, doctor's visits are quick and perfunctory, diagnosis is inaccurate and doctors are very reluctant to refer patients to specialists who might be able to help them.

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