Jenny Liu ’21 creatively approaches the increasing financial expenditure for patients.

My first office visit:

I waited patiently in the lobby of the clinic before being transferred to the patient room. After a brief examination of my ears, the nurse asked, “You might be getting a cold. You’re congested.”

“I don’t feel sick,” I said.

“You’ve got fluid in your ears. We can give you a cold pack for congestion, and I can prescribe you antibiotics for an infection.”

Minus $52

My second office visit:

Dream – the words actually seemed italicized on my wall when I woke up with a crushing case of vertigo. I couldn’t move – I didn’t want to move. My world was spinning. An invisible force was pressing my head down on my pillow. I just wanted it all to go away. Fearing to be late for class, I struggled to stand up briefly for a moment, but I sat back down. The physical restraint in my legs kept me from getting dressed.

Water. I reached out for my water bottle next to my bed, grateful to myself for having filled it the night before. As I drank, the dizziness slipped away. I must be extremely dehydrated, I thought. I put on my heavy coat, slung on my backpack, and began the twenty minute trek (normally five) to class.

After two hours of staying awake in class, I went to the doctor. The doctor gave me a sweet smile after examining me. Her kind demeanor made me trust her unlike my last doctor’s visit, which felt rushed and impersonal. She said, “I think you might be getting just a taste of the stomach flu – it’s going around y’know.”

“Really? Because I didn’t feel sick at all until this morning – there were no signs and I didn’t eat anything out of the ordinary.”

“I’ll go ahead and prescribe you this spray to help you with your congestion. Come check back in with me if that doesn’t work.”

Minus $47

My third office visit:

“Nothing that I’ve been prescribed with has helped me with my condition. I need this to go away,” I said with frustration.

“Alright, let me examine you.”

I left the office with a referral to a specialist. The nurse recommended that I needed to see a specialist as I’ve been back three times with no resolution of my medical condition.

Minus $35

“…an MRI scan…” Minus $50 “…steroid injections…” Minus $140

You’d have to go to another appointment to get a check-up.

Come back and see me in a few weeks.

I can refer you to this doctor and see if they can do this.

You’d have to get these drops, but they’re not covered by insurance.

Almost every doctor’s appointment, I’ve walked away with instructions of making another medical office visit. More prescriptions, more drops, more appointments, more money. A static progression of my health, but an uptrend in the amount I pay for it.

I am sick of how much money is lost in the process of medical treatment. I walk away with different advice, but the doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and everybody else in the medical system walk away with more money. Money, money, money is what keeps this system alive, as if all the people who seek healthcare have this endless supply of cash lying around in their bank accounts.

Medical error hurts the patient, but it benefits someone else’s pockets. The issue is resolved, but it should benefit the patient to check-in with the doctor within a couple weeks to ensure proper recovery. In case of certain unlikely symptoms, the patient should pay for another service as a precautionary measure. All these cases require more money for office visits, services, prescriptions, etc. and people may not even get the right care they seek. According to the Healthcare Financial Management Association, the annual costs resulting from medical error can range from $17 billion to $29 billion. These errors can lead to much more than just emptying out a family’s bank account, but they can also lead to the loss of a loved one. The Institute of Medicine’s publication To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System reports that as many as 98,000 Americans die from preventable mistakes in medical care annually. Aside from losing money due to inefficient health care, not diagnosing a patient correctly and forcing them to come back for another visit delays precious time they have in getting treated.

People say healthcare is a universal human right, but what happens when one’s experience with healthcare just shows improvement in the amount of money in a doctor’s pockets? What happens when paying for treatment just results in worsening of your condition or, in extreme conditions, death? I read a story once about a girl who finally beat cancer after a series of brutal chemotherapy, but due to a miscalculation in her final treatment, she died. Aside from the money spent to treat her, the time and labor that went into her care went to waste. Imagine if that same girl had to visit several doctors (each office visit costing her family) before finally being diagnosed correctly. Money, money, money. Healthcare is a universal human right only for those who can pay for it.

Is it inherent in our medical care system that the people who cannot splurge on medical expenses are disadvantaged? Maybe. This systematic problem with medical care highlights the irony in a career that aims to relieve human suffering. Doctors treat patients, but in doing so, some are hurt by the incurred expenses with the possibility of no health benefits. Their health stays static, just like the system. Static.

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