Rolodex Medicine

Bob Schultz Oct. 31, 2004, 1:47am

Your future access to healthcare in Illinois lies in the power of your rolodex.

A neighbor is the proud parent of two physicians. The neighbor’s daughter is in the final year of a anesthesiology, while the son is just starting in family practice.

Struck with a medical crisis this summer, my neighbor was asked to wait up to 30 days for an appointment with a specialist. Using her daughter’s medical connections, she got in the door in 72 hours. And the specialist’s words to my neighbor were telling. “It’s lucky you have a relative in medicine, because the future access to the medical profession will be dictated by who you know.”

Two executives arrived in our community of Effingham last year. They came to enjoy the vibrant entrepreneurship mixed with small town values that is our foundation. While the community opened its arms to the newest residents, these execs were shut out when it came to medical care.

Our primary physicians are full.

They aren’t taking new patients, and long ago eliminated waiting lists as being nothing more than a “pipe dream” for a prospective patient. The executives and their families were finally squeezed onto a patient roster, only because their company’s board member made a call on their behalf.

I had a chance to test the access issue myself this summer, as I suffered through an unexplained back and neck pain that couldn’t be diagnosed or relieved.

An orthopedic friend recommended I see a specialist in Champaign. He even offered to make the appointment for me. I begged off the generosity and explained my interest in truly testing the system, free of friendly influence.

The scheduling nurse was kind but firm. The Champaign specialist saw no one until they were first seen by a junior associate at the practice. And the appointment with the associate would be six weeks, at the earliest.

I quickly gave up my experiment and surrendered to my orthopedic friend’s generosity. Fifteen minutes later, I received a call from the same kind nurse. She informed me that I didn’t have to see the junior associate, and that the top guy would see me in 48 hours.

Illinois medicine is becoming like the rent controlled apartments of New York City. We’ll be showing up at wake services to find out whether the death triggered any openings with a physician.

How we, as a state, address Illinois’ physician flight will determine whether we remain attractive to companies and families looking to expand. The value of living in Illinois is dramatically reduced by the increasingly inaccessible medical community.

Springfield lawmakers aren’t sure if there is a medical crisis in Southern Illinois. The outcome of the Karmeier/Maag election will determine Springfield’s interest in even addressing tort reform in Illinois.

Voting for Judge Karmeier for the Supreme Court is the only way I know to send a message to Springfield that the need for tort reform is necessary and immediate.

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