Prenatal Diaries: Of Resistant & Ruthless Receptionists

It’d been less than 48 hours since I left humid Beirut for the sweltering heat of Southern California. I couldn’t particularly recall how hot a high of 43°C (110°F) could be, but a three-minute walk from the hospital to the onsite physician clinics inspired eerie reassurance that the admitting facilities were near. Forget maternity; I’d need treatment for a heatstroke.

To reinforce the rejection I’d encountered over the phone weeks ago, securing an obstetrician/gynecologist (OBGYN) proved to be a veritable nightmare. I visited a handful of clinical offices, attempting to set up an appointment as a new patient. But the first question with which I was invariably bombarded was, “what month are you?”

Elsewhere, the number 7 is a harbinger of blessings, a marker of good luck. Not in these circumstances, however. Almost as soon as I uttered the calamitous adjective “seventh,” the receptionist’s head would shake convulsively, as though I’d committed a grave sin. Some offices claimed the threshold for new patients was five months of pregnancy, while others cited the second trimester cutoff. I was a certified castoff.

Who knew it would be this challenging?

My father took me to his primary care physician, a kind-hearted Syrian-American who heard me out and grew equally flustered. The issue was obviously related to malpractice premiums, as OBGYNs face some of the highest rates in the industry. That explained it—no doctor wanted to enroll a pregnant lady so advanced in her third trimester, should unforeseen complications arise during childbirth.

Nevertheless, my father’s doctor was determined to help, and he phoned a friend and seasoned colleague in his clinic’s network. After carefully explaining my situation—that I was a native of the region, that I had had an uneventful pregnancy to date, and that my prenatal dossier was entirely at his disposal—he gestured a thumbs up. The OBGYN would be happy to receive me that very same day.

We drove to the clinic wherein said obstetrician practiced, hopes renewed and shoulders squarely confident. But nothing could have prepared me for the duel I was about to engage in with the front desk staff. Here’s how it went down.


Try getting through to a dismissive receptionist! (Photo source: Monsters Inc.)


Before even noting down my name, the receptionist on duty demanded my health insurance card, contacting the central billing office to confirm whether coverage extended to their medical clinic. The billing specialist claimed she couldn't reach anyone at any of the phone numbers published on the card, which struck me as doubtful, as my worldwide insurance carrier operates a 24/7 hotline. I had a feeling the specialist was dialing the main hotline, preceded by the three-digit Ireland country code, as if it were local. Coincidence would have it that the number was exactly 10 digits in length, identical to a North American phone number.

I kindly requested to speak with the billing specialist, but the receptionist would not ingratiate me. After over half an hour of back and forth with no progress, I decided to call the hotline myself, and within seconds I was connected to an agent. I explained to him the situation, and he was incredulous that the staff at the clinic were denying my insurance, given that this medical provider is published in the carrier's online directory for my specified zip code. I had even shown the receptionist this directory, which I was able to pull up on my smartphone, but again, she would have none of it.


Photo source: http://www.businessreviewusa.com


I asked the operator if he could contact the billing expert (hah!), whose number I finally extracted from the receptionist, and he was happy to cooperate. Within minutes, the receptionist informed me that everything had been sorted out and that my insurance was accepted. Mind you, this was after a debilitating hour-and-a-half-long wait and near coercion by the front desk to sign a waiver that would defer all visitation charges to me. Of course, I had duly refused to endorse it, knowing full well that my insurance carrier would eventually be recognized.

To add insult to injury, the nurse who screened me before the OBGYN entered the room was the antithesis of sweet and comforting. Ostensibly, I’d delayed her lunch break by a few minutes, and she was making it a point to unload her annoyance on me.

What front and back office staff demonstrated in the way of hostility, the doctor made up for in sheer warmth and humility. He expressed how honored he felt to be taking over from my Lebanese obstetrician, and how impressed he was to find I had completed all required prenatal exams and had the results on hand. A follow-up appointment was slated for two weeks later.

While the doctor restored my faith in the goodness of humankind, the entire episode affirmed my disdain for the rote behavior some folks suffer from in their mindless worship of the ordinary. That blind devotion prevents them from stepping back to process the extraordinary, thereby quashing any semblance of humanity they might have exhibited otherwise.

To think that I had almost been turned away from the OBGYN’s office for the obstinate shortsightedness of clerical staff ruffles my feathers! How many other patients across America are denied treatment at the hands of incompetent staff members? One can only wonder.

Stay tuned for more interesting encounters as my path to motherhood unravels.

Comments

  1. You didn’t waltz in there with your recently-acquired "you don't know who you're talking to!" Lebanese attitude, did you? I don’t need to tell you this, but YDKWYTT does not take you very far in the US, thank God.

    These people, no matter how drone-like their jobs may seem to a higher functioning being like yourself, are the gatekeepers of the best and most thorough and perfectionist medical care system in the world. Actually, I EXPECT them to NOT have an easy come / easy go "Bienvenidos a todos" open-door policy like they do in Zimbabwe - and Lebanon.

    So be kind to these animals…

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If there's anything I pride myself on, it's my patience, humility and belief in the general goodness of humankind. I never picked up the YDKWYTT attitude to which you allude, and I would never exhibit it neither in Lebanon, the US, nor Zimbabwe.

      But I do believe that the so-called "perfectionist medical care system" in the US could benefit from proper hiring and training of its frontline staff. The frontline, after all, is the first image and impression we as patients and consumers process. If I was turned away despite my valid insurance coverage, would you say that this system lived up to its perfectionist nature?

      It's the doctor's prerogative to accept or deny my case (discrimination is his discretion). But it's not the receptionist's prerogative to turn me away if she doesn't know how to dial an international number.

      Delete
  2. Pride yourself on your humility, do you? Cute! Very cute!

    Points well taken. So glad you neither espoused nor brandished the Lebanese 'tude I mentioned, but again, in defense, please keep in mind that it's not every day that a receptionist in Ottumwa Iowa (or worldly Berkeley, CA for that matter) has come across an International insurance policy and has had to dial Ireland to verify it... Patience, grasshopper, c'est tout! :)

    We moved from CO to TX three years ago and had a tougher time (than you) getting an OBGYN to "accept" us even at 18 weeks, even with Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance (a national carrier).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am not going to entertain your supercilious remarks. I'll only repeat this: how do your anecdotes reinforce your claims that healthcare in the US is "perfectionist" when you yourself were turned away, despite your all-American health coverage?

      Delete
  3. I never said we were turned away. I said we "had a tougher time" than you (and ... we were very gracious about it all and never complained).

    ReplyDelete

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