Access to healthcare is a hot topic right now. The media has been focusing on lack of access related to insurance coverage, but there is more to lack of access than lack of insurance. My recent shift in the ER reminded me just how many kinds of lack of access to healthcare there really are. The ability to find the appropriate kind of healthcare in a TIMELY manner is the one that my patients struggle with the most.
A patient was placed in one of the rooms I was covering with an oxygen saturation of 44% (we are talking acute respiratory distress and organ failure. You can bet we were preparing for intubation)! To my amazement this strong fighter of a person was sitting up and talking to me. As I was gathering their medical history and history of present illness they said the reason they were in so much trouble was because their medications ran out last week and they were unable to refill them. I asked the patient why they were unable to refill the medication and they said that the prescription had expired and they did not have a regular doctor to write a prescription for a medication refill. I asked them if they had tried calling around and the patient responded that they did, and the soonest any local practice had an appointment was over one month away so she stayed home and hoped for the best.
My poor patient was facing going onto a ventilator because they were unable to obtain a prescription for a life saving medication refill! This is lack of access to healthcare if I ever saw it! And this story is very common. I have so many patients who come to the ER for minor injuries and illness because they were not able to figure out where else they could receive medical attention. Navigating the internet to find a credible healthcare facility is daunting. It seems to all circle back to websites designed to convince people they have some crazy illness that sends them running to the ER.
Healthcare providers may not have control over insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, or healthcare laws, but we can create a movement and be part of the solution for patient access to healthcare. We can make sure that the right information is out there so that our communities can locate us and get help in a timely fashion. Information is power, and it is our duty to make sure that our communities have the power to find help. Be part of the solution.