Why, exactly, do you want to know that?


I was visiting NYU Medical Center earlier today for some lab tests my doctor had ordered for me a while back. During the intake, among other administrative questions, they asked me my religion. I was so taken aback by this question that, seeing the cross hanging on the neck of the man who was admitting me, I angrily blurted out “Atheist.” What I should have said was “None of your god damned business.” He backpedaled a little after my outburst with “You don’t have to answer this question, we just ask it…” and his voice trailed off.

So picking up the ball I asked pointedly, “Why, exactly, do you ask it?”

He replied with “They ask us to ask it, this is part of the new procedure.”

I told him that while I understood it was part of a procedure, I didn’t understand why they were asking it. For what purpose. He told me he didn’t know, and went to ask someone else, who also couldn’t tell me why they ask for this info, only that they were told to and we didn’t have to answer if we didn’t feel like it. That’s great I thought, except that now everyone in the room had plainly heard me state that I am a godless commie or whatever, and I wished I had at least said Buddhist, even though that is not a religion (any more than Atheism is, but that is how our culture views such things, alas).

I then started thinking about all the terrible ways in which this information could be used, and tried to imagine any legitimate reasons for having it. A quick post about it on facebook garnered the opinions that it could be used to either avoid lawsuits by not performing certain procedures (such as blood transfusions for Jehovah’s Witnesses) or to aid in comforting the dying by calling their spiritual leader or something at the appropriate moment. I call bullshit on both of these. Far better to just ask people to list any procedures they don’t want, and who they want to be present should they be in the process of kicking it.

Far more ominous are the scenarios I could imagine that could disturb the impartial care that any patient should expect. Imagine a strong-believing Christian nurse needing to draw blood from a patient whose chart reads “Atheist” or “Muslim” (or “Satanist” for that matter). Or who perhaps feels it is ok to ignore the call of some and hurry to the call of others in the ward with whom she has more in common. Plug in any non matching beliefs between providers and patients and you have a recipe for all kinds of abuse, both subtle and egregious. These considerations should be completely off the record. By not even having such information, it is much less likely to be abused. I am not sure who hatched this plan to ask such information of patients, but it is certainly ill-advised and creepy, whether or not one declines to state.

Dr. Levy just wants your money


I had a rather disconcerting visit this morning to one Dr. Howard Levy, Orthopedic specialist. Referred there by my doctor for a shoulder injury, and armed with my MRI films I arrived at his office on the Upper East side a few minutes early. The very first thing the receptionist asked me was if I had X-rays with me. I informed her that no, I had (much more accurate and expensive) MRI films. She then told me that the doctor likes to have X-rays, and asked me to go to another floor to get them and then return. She looked shocked when I refused, telling her I preferred not to.

Let me stop here and tell you that this is one of the biggest problems with our current system of health care: It is fee for service. That means the more unnecessary tests and exams they can foist on you, the more they can charge and collect. This is a scam of the highest order, and the fact is that despite all these tests and money, people in this country (even those that have insurance) are not at all healthier than those in other countries where this is not the case.

She huffed, told me I could discuss it with the doctor, and gave me forms to fill out.  A few minutes later she led me to an office and told me to remove my shirt. The doctor’s assistant (a sort of physician apprentice specialist I guess) then came in and asked me a few questions about my shoulder history, then gave me a few strength tests. After that he told me I could start with physical therapy, but I would definitely be needing surgery at some point. He then carefully explained the surgery and recovery period, and patiently answered all of my questions. He was making me feel a little better about the whole thing, or at least better informed. He then left me, telling me that the doctor would be in shortly.

A short while later, Dr. Levy entered the room, shook my hand and said, “So, you know what you have to do…”

To which I responded, “I guess, but is it dangerous for me to wait a while? I am not in a lot of pain, and I need to think about it…”

He brusquely told me I could think about it, but this is where it was headed, this was his specialty and he knew all about it. Noting the various pictures of famous (I suppose) football players on the walls, signed in appreciation, I acceded that this was probably the case, but then by way of explanation started to say,”Well, the thing is Doctor, I am not sure how much my insurance will cover, I think my deductible is quite high, so I need to check with them…”

He cut me off quickly with “I can’t help you with that.”

“I wasn’t asking for your help or a discount or anything, I was just explaining why I may have to wait a bit while…”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do anything about your insurance. If you want to get the operation here is my card, you call us back.”

Once again, I explained that I wasn’t asking for anything, and he cut me off once more to tell me that he would give me a prescription for physical therapy and sent me on my way. What an asshole. This guy clearly wasn’t interested in actually healing anyone. All he cared about was the money and the prestige of being at the “top” of his field. This is one of my biggest complaints about some doctors. The patient is really just an object to be acted upon (and sucked dry financially), not a human being with feelings to relate to in any way.

As it turned out, I didn’t need the X-rays after all. Shocking. I left thinking I would rather have my shoulder fall off then let this jerk touch me.