...hey, could you consider the patient's perspective?

Ever since I got off dialysis, I've had to have a full set of kidney labs done every three months. I get very anxious waiting for the results.

A week ago last Friday, I went to the lab and had blood drawn early in the morning, and then went about my day. Some old college friends were going to pick me up in the evening, drive to a huge lake in northern Minnesota, and rent a houseboat for two nights. We've done this before and it's a lot of fun (although I am not in charge of steering....).

I got back to my place a few minutes before they were scheduled to arrive. It was 5:30 and there was a message on my phone: "This is Dr. Wheeler's office. We have extremely critical lab results and you need to contact us right away." I felt the color drain from my face. the caller had not identified herself, nor left a number. I called the nephrology number and, of course, they were closed for the weekend. My pulse was throbbing with the panic. I wondered what "critical" lab result meant? Was I dying? Did I need to go back on dialysis?

My friends arrived and between sobs I told them they should leave without me because I didn't want to have a medical emergency happen on the middle of Lake Mille Lacs.

I decided to go to the ER that my clinic system is affiliated with. By the time I caught a bus, it was dark. I do not see well in the dark due to laser treatments ten years ago.

I got off at the stop and stumbled along the bumpy sidewalk to the hospital's main door. "This door closes at 9 p.m." "Stay calm", I muttered, and edged my way around the perimeter of the building and finally found the ER.

I told the triage nurse about the message and she asked which lab result they had referred to. Well, the message didn't say. She told me to have a seat until a room opened up. In the meantime, a man came in whose lawnmower had exploded in his face, and a girl who had been hit in the jaw with a softball bat and was screaming in pain.

3 hours later I was taken to a room. 90 minutes after that, the doc comes in and said, "well, there are some notes here about your potassium being low and for you to increase your supplement to 40 mEq per day and have a new draw on Monday". "That's it?" Man I was starting to get really mad. "That's it - I have no idea why she didn't leave that message on the phone. Oh, and we have a special nurse line number that you could have also called to get this info."

I called a cab at 2 a.m. to take me home. The ER concierge, an elderly gentleman, said I should save the message and gave me the name of someone to contact in Patient Relations, which I did. All she could do was apologize - for a lost weekend and an enormous copayment for a nonadmissison ER visit. Sh-t.

"We have extremely critical lab results and you need to contact us right away."

Unbelieveable! That is a "dreaded" message no one wants to hear. I don't understand why they left it when it wasn't true. I don't blame you for being upset Kathy. Especially since you missed a great get-away with Friends and had to travel by yourself in the dark to find out what the problem was. Shame on them!

I'm glad that you are okay and they were able to advise you at the ER though about your dosage. Hopefully those or other Friends will plan another week-end adventure with you soon.

I think this is an outgrowth of HIPPA and patient privacy. I know that I signed a form with my doc, that allows him to leave voicemails for me that contain information about lab tests and my health, or to leave the message with my wife (specifically named on the form). Without that explicit authorization... I don't think they can leave anything but the vaguest messages, and they certainly can't include any details.

Kathy, this is unacceptable on their part. Someone needs to be held accountable. Please give them hell, you've certainly been through it.

I am aching too, I'm also mad and I want someone to pay for this SERIOUS MISTAKE.

Love, and sending baskets of hugs and warm feelings.

"We have extremely critical lab results and you need to contact us right away."

For routine lab results, leaving a message like that is outrageous. It's the equivalent of screaming "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre. You definitely should follow this up -- there need to be consequences or it will just become normal practice. (Sounds like it may already be.) Unacceptable!

The disconnect between doctors and their front office drones . . . . oh my. I could write an entire book about that (not a pretty one), so I won't start. ;-)