Over the last several years we’ve been bombarded with advertisements for hospitals and health clinics. This one welcomes Dr. Sawbones, who has over 70 years of experience in amputations below the knee; that one’s team does more nose transplants than any other hospital in the hemisphere; the other one guarantees to get you to a doctor within 30 minutes or your parking is free; and so forth.
If you were scheduling elective surgery, those ads might be valuable (although making sense of the conflicting claims is like shopping for a mattress).
But if you have sudden chest pain, what do you do? First off, of course, you call 911. What you don’t want to do is drive yourself somewhere. Dying behind the wheel of your car is undignified.
Okay, the first responders arrive and check what’s left of your vitals. Then an ambulance shows up and they load you in the back. If you are conscious, they will ask you where you want to go. As your life flashes before your eyes, you try to pay special attention to the ads you’ve seen. Was it this hospital that had the best team for angioplasty? No, they specialize in joint replacement. What about that one? Yeah, maybe it was that one.
You tell the EMTs your choice, and off you go.
Awhile back I was joking around with some EMTs (in casual conversation, not an emergency), and I said “If I’m having a heart attack, I want to go to the closest hospital.” Rather than laughing, one of them said “No, you don’t — you want to go to Sacred Scalpel.”
That surprised me. I’d always thought that in case of a heart attack, every second counts. Apparently, though, those seconds stop counting so much once the EMTs arrive. They can stabilize you until you get to your penultimate (you hope) destination, where the speed and quality of the medical treatment are more important.
I’ve pondered that some, and wondered (particularly while shoveling snow) where I would want to go. There are all those ads to keep track of. Do I have time, while lying on the floor in fear and dread, to research Consumer Reports or some other website that gives hospital ratings? Do the EMTs, like the concierges in fancy hotels, have recommendations? Do they get kickbacks? What if they disagree amongst themselves?
Should I keep a list of preferred facilities? Should I keep it on my (locked) smart phone, on a slip of paper in my wallet, have it tattooed on my wrist?
I don’t know where I should go. For better or worse, I live in an area with a lot of hospitals and their outlying facilities. They get pretty territorial, so they’re not likely to tell the ambulance that it would be better if I went to the place down the road.
intellectually, I know that the more information I have the better equipped I am to make a wise decision. I know that my insurance company, and some in Congress, would encourage me to factor in price. (To the latter, I would spend my dying breath telling them what they can do with their free market competition.)
I guess I should start saving those ads, like I would if I were shopping for groceries. Maybe there’s a buy one, get one free offer on stents.