Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Trouble With Forms

As I wait (just 7 more weeks now) for yet another new-patient appointment with yet another possible PCP, I've been instructed to fill out a rather large packet of paperwork. Over the past 8 years I've filled out more than my share of these packets, what with all the moving and then searching for the right doctors within each of the three categories (PCP, neurologists and OB/GYN) at each location. No doubt you've filled out many of these packets yourself.

They need all your demographic, payment and billing information. They ask for all the usual medical history, symptoms and listings of your current medications. They have all kinds of releases and waivers to sign - mostly written in language that is really difficult to understand when your brain is all foggy from either your chronic migraines or fibromyalgia (or both).

The general gist is usually about the same but, feeling like I've become a bit of a connoisseur of new-patient forms, not all forms are created equal and not all forms are useful tools. These packets take some time to complete. You have grab your insurance card, reference your medication list and migraine tracking sheets. You have to sit down and really think about how to best answer these questions in the small spaces provided. You want to be concise yet thorough and complete. You want to write legibly, which for me takes some effort - partly because I've never had great handwriting and partly because I so rarely write by hand anymore.

More often than not, you walk in with all your completed forms only to have them completely ignored. The nurse or medical assistant who sets you up in an exam room, will take your vitals and then ask you all those same medical questions you spent all that time writing out. Only now, instead of really listening and responding he or she is typing furiously on a small laptop. Then the doctor comes in and basically does the same thing. This is how mistakes are made.

I've only had my forms reviewed with me by a couple doctors, most seem to have their own methodology outside of the forms. I'm totally okay with doctors wanting to do it their own way, but then don't waste my precious time and energy filling out all these forms. I wouldn't mind filling them out so long as they were used but you never know who is going to use them or not so you always have to fill them out.

This latest packet of forms I've been working on for my appointment in September is a great example of bad forms. They are full of misspelled words, incomplete questions, and don't provide nearly enough room for written responses. Plus, almost all of the questions are asked twice - this is one I've never seen before. They have NOT given me duplicates of the same forms, they actually just have so many different forms that ask all the same questions in slightly different ways. If anyone in that office were paying any real attention to these forms they would not be so full of mistakes and overlapping questions. As a patient, I find it difficult to invest any energy in filling them out when so little effort was put into creating them. Clearly this is not a useful tool for the doctors in this practice.

Fair or not, I find it difficult to hold onto much hope that this doctor will be any good based solely on this particularly bad packet of forms. I hope I'm wrong.

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