Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Mon 1st Feb, 2010

WOMBATs in the health care system

A couple of weeks ago I had an appointment with a specialist (the details of which are otiose to this blog post). I turned up on time at the surgery, and the receptionist asked for my referral form. Stupidly, I had forgotten it. This turned out to completely prevent me from seeing the specialist at all, as the doctor's surgery didn't have the referral on file and thus couldn't fax it through, and I wouldn't be able to make the round trip back home to pick the form up before my booking time had expired. So I had to schedule this work for another day, which is tomorrow, and I'm already nervously thinking through the list of every concievable piece of paperwork and ephemera that they could want in order to make sure I have it with me tomorrow.

So let's think this through. What actual purpose does this form serve? It's not needed to book the appointment - they did that over the phone and didn't require any form of identification or authentication information then. It's not needed to validate me as the person who made the booking - I have plenty of other valid forms of identification on me. It's not needed to validate me as the person requiring the treatment - the doctor's surgery could easily do that, and in many ways that would be more secure than me doing it via the form. I can't use this form to access any other specialist for this particular problem because it specifically names the agency that's going to provide the service, so giving me the form doesn't serve as a general letter of introduction to any specialist I want. About the only reason to give me the form is so that I can read what's written on it, but that's hardly useful as its written in medical jargon that I can only decode by being already familiar with the problem.

So as far as I can see there is no actual purpose served by giving a patient their referral form and requiring it to be given to the surgery before treatment can proceed. When this doesn't happen, and I'll bet dollars to cents that it happens a lot, it's lost time for the patient, lost time for the surgery, and a lot of hassle all round. That hurts people and it hurts the economy. All because, as far as I can see, the doctor's surgery doesn't send the form directly to the specialist.

I'll ask the doctor and the specialist when I see them in time, but in the mean time I'd love to hear from anyone who can give me some good reasons why things are done this way.

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