Saturday, January 09, 2010

Thriving With Kaiser

My wife and I recently acquired different health coverage from what we've had for the past several years. We now have Kaiser Permanente, and I have to say that so far so good. With our previous coverage, we each had separate doctors in separate locations, and if we needed X-rays taken or lab tests or eye exams performed or prescriptions filled, we had to go to a different facility for each. Now we can do all of these things and more in the same facility. I really like that.

I also like the fact that you can go online and communicate with your doctors by e-mail, see summaries of your previous appointments including your vital signs, tests ordered, and your doctor's diagnoses and recommendations, and you can also check your lab results as soon as they come in and follow links from the results page to pages explaining what those results mean.

All of this seems to get me much more involved in my health care. It also doesn't hurt that I really, really like my new primary care doctor. He's very friendly and very seasoned without appearing to be antiquated.

I know that some people don't like Kaiser. They say it handles patients like an assembly line, that it's miserly with patient care, and that it restricts patients too much in whom they can see for diagnosis and treatment and in what treatments they can receive. And there may be something to all of these criticisms. I certainly think that if someone had a very serious disease and could benefit from seeing a leading specialist, Kaiser might not be his best choice. But for most people with most medical needs, I think Kaiser may be pretty good.

Having said that, I'll try to keep my eyes open to any weaknesses Kaiser might have or dangers it might present with mismanagement of patient care. I know that my grandparents had Kaiser coverage for many years and ended up dying in the same Kaiser facility. But they were very old and very sick when they did. The thing that distressed me before they died is that Kaiser was often very eager to discharge my grandparents before they seemed ready to come home and for me to give them the care they needed. But I'm sure that's not unique to Kaiser. No matter what kind of health coverage we have, we need to educate ourselves, stay vigilant, and to not let ourselves be railroaded through the system.

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