"Keep Doing Your Research"

Everyone has a hospital story - good or bad.

As a hospital/healthcare professional, you never know how a seemingly small interaction can change the way you view our business.

This afternoon in a West Palm Beach Dunkin Donuts store I met Sy.

Sy, who visits this location every day around noon for his coffee, was energetically giving the good-natured cashier a hard time. He punctuated scathingly affectionate comments with taps of his cane on the counter - who could resist jumping into that fray?

Either he smelled 'healthcare' on me or I look like a drug rep (or both), but Sy and I also ordered the same medium regular java with ice and cream, so perhaps we were just bound to start chatting.

A retired lawyer, Sy moved to the Sunshine state 15 years ago. His firm represented a New Rochelle Hospital (among others) and a small horde of docs up and down the eastern seaboard.

After we chatted briefly about electronic health records (EHRs), Sy shared his opinion of the Florida healthcare system, and his views on how they treat seniors.

Sy and his wife, in their 80s, have been treated for a variety of conditions in the last few years, including progressive bladder cancer, an aortic aneurysm, a 'male' cancer, and ortho issues.

Three years ago, Sy's wife noticed blood in her urine. Two separate specialists in Florida viewed CT results and diagnosed a cyst (without biopsy). One offered to remove the cyst in the office, another offered to perform the procedure at the hospital on an outpatient basis.

Sy's wife was uncomfortable with the situation, concerned about the blood in her urine, worried about the offhand attitudes of the doctors and also the lack of further testing. Sy asked if she wanted to go 'home' to New York state for treatment, so they arranged to see a specialist there.

In NY, the specialist performed a biopsy. Sure enough - progressive bladder cancer. Surgery commenced. Sy's wife has been cancer free for three years and is "doing just wonderful."

I wish I could say this was an isolated experience, but as anyone with a chronic condition knows, you-know-what happens. Sy told 4 more stories like this one.

The one that sticks in my gullet involves a friend and his wife.

Sy's friend was admitted as an inpatient here in Florida for hernia surgery. Just prior to discharge, the friend's wife noticed the dressing/bandage near his groin was bloody with fresh bright blood. She alerted a nurse, who changed the dressing. This happened twice more before the wife went home for the night - the doc decided to keep her husband for observation.

You may be able to guess where this is going.

Early the next morning she got a call from the hospital. Her husband bled to death shortly before 4am.

One of Sy's biggest concerns (understandably) is the influence a patient's age has on quality of care.

In his experience as a lawyer, and a patient, and a retiree living in a geriatric hotspot state, he also believes doctors are less likely to be cautious and aggressive with follow-up care for older patients. He commented "What are you gonna do? You're gonna die in a few years anyway, and all the cost - why bother? They know that."

Hefting his cane, Sy made his way to the door. Just before he left, he turned back to me.

"Keep doing your research - get in there and straighten them out."

"They need all the help they can get, right?" I was only half-joking.

Hefting his cane, Sy stepped out of the store. The few minutes he took over coffee to give me an honest assessment of the geriatric healthcare environment have the cream curdling in my stomach.

When I'm feeling glass-half-empty and the industry seems broken beyond repair, I'll remember a blue-eyed man who took the time to tell it to me straight.

Question of the Day: Why don't we have more patients like Sy on hospital advisory boards?

Thanks Sy - most valuable coffee break I've ever taken.

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