Friday, April 25, 2014

Carilion Makes Good

A few days ago I wrote a post about how a Carilion doctor basically left me stranded regarding my health care when I went for a second opinion on a chronic health issue.

The post was not very complimentary of Roanoke's largest health care provider. Nor should it have been; what happened was inexcusable. I also linked the post on my Facebook page.

What happened next was completely unexpected. First, my Facebook friends, many of whom had no idea that I have been so ill because I've been somewhat private about it, came to my defense with concern and indignation. Some shared stories of their own issues with our behemoth healthcare system, including the local providers. Others offered up prayers. My inbox filled with suggestions. A few people posted helpful links in hopes of helping me figure out the source of my chronic pain. I was incredibly humbled, grateful, and overwhelmed by this outpouring.

On Thursday morning, around 9 a.m., I received a call from a Carilion representative. She said she'd heard I had a bad experience with Internal Medicine and was following up. I told her what had happened. She said that was not acceptable and that she would get me in to see an internal medicine doctor that very day.

She called back in about 20 minutes and asked if I could be at the Riverside facility for a 12 p.m. appointment. I said I would be there.

Then the most surprising thing of all happened: I received an email from Nancy Agee, President and CEO of Carilion. Ms. Agee said she was saddened to learn about my bad experiences with Carilion and that she wanted to help. She said she had taken action internally right away.

I received her note right before I left for my new appointment. I met with a different internal medicine doctor who was very kind. The nurse was nice, and the head of nursing for that department came in and apologized to me for the treatment I had received the day before. She told me that the issue had been corrected and that in the future people would not be treated as I was. I am very happy to report that and I hope that is indeed the case.

After our consultation, the doctor said the staff had already arranged for me to have a meeting with a gastroenterologist on Friday morning (4/25) if I wanted the appointment. I did.

This morning I met with my new gastroenterologist. He was a very nice doctor, quite thorough, and keenly interested in helping me understand why I am in so much pain. For the first time in all of my many doctor visits, this doctor took the time to pull out an atlas of the human body, show me how all the organs intertwined, point out the locations of my muscles, and show me where I hurt.

After my consultation with him, I had a much better understanding of the problem I am facing. My healthcare issue is an unusual and complicated one. The fact that the pain has continued for so long makes it especially difficult, he said.

He gave me a new drug and said he was hoping that with medications and physical therapy, I would be about 60 percent better over the next few months.

That is not exactly the news one wants to hear, but I think I could function at 60 percent better. Certainly I could function better than I am now.

So Carilion made good and stepped up to help me. I am very grateful to Ms. Agee for her intervention, and most especially grateful for my unknown Facebook friend or blog reader who sent her the link to my page. I am glad to know that the leader of our largest healthcare provider does take an active interest in seeing that people are treated fairly. I hope that, at least, what happened to me will cause a change so that others are not left uncared for.

Truly I hope that the 9 a.m. Thursday phone call from a Carilion representative would have happened anyway; that someone would have realized there had been a mistake, and set out to make it right, without a command from on high. I don't know the sequence of events, except that I did receive the phone call from the rep before I received the email from the CEO. *Updated: I have since learned that the initial call to me to correct the problem was implemented prior to the CEO learning of the issue. So good for Carilion.*

And now, while I have it on my mind, I am going to list a few concrete things I'd like to see Carilion do to make itself a better healthcare provider for Roanoke. Some of these perhaps could be wrapped up into a new program called CarilionCares. That has a nice soothing ring to it, doesn't it?

1. Put a link to a (I am making this email address up) email (or something similar) in a prominent place on the front page of the main website. Presently, the only contact information goes to something called and you don't know if you're writing to a person or a dead email file. I did receive an acknowledgement of the email I sent out Wednesday afternoon, but I think a cheery little box that says "Have a complaint? We want to help! Write us!" would go a long way. One of the most frequent comments I had on my Facebook page and in private messages was that people felt like their problems with healthcare at Carilion were going unheard.

2. Establish a better referral system. The Doctor/Provider section on the website lets you search by name, specialty, or location. But what if you don't know what specialist you need? How do you find out? That is where I ran into problems. I had no idea what kind of specialist I needed. Ideally, the primary care doctor would make a referral, but that isn't always the case. Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. The more power a person has to do this, the better for all. There should be a way to email a CarilionCares specialist asking for advice on the best doctor, or a way to call said specialist and ask for a referral. That specialist should be able to determine some direction for the poor soul on the other end of the phone. That specialist should be familiar with as many doctors and specialties as possible. If I called in tomorrow saying "I want a no-nonsense female doctor who can help me with the pain in my hip," she should be able to say, why of course, Dr. So-and-So would be just right for you. And that shouldn't just be platitudes, but a genuine effort to match patient and doctor.

3. Have better follow-up. My health insurance provider offers me something called "conditioned care" and a 24-hour nurse line. I have taken advantage of both - but they aren't located in Roanoke. They can't advise me except in the most general of terms. However, they check with me about my condition, ask appropriate questions, and offer help in other ways if I need it. Shouldn't someone from Carilion follow up when a patient diagnosed with asthma or high blood pressure or some other chronic issue doesn't return as scheduled? Make sure they're taking their medication? If a healthcare facility truly cares about its patients, then it should not lose them in the day-to-day matters. At the least, how about a 24-hour hotline for people with questions and concerns to call? If my health insurance provider can do that, I don't see why Carilion couldn't do it for its patients.

4. Have patient advocates for people with chronic and life-threatening conditions. For example, I remember when my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer how alone I and other family members felt. There was no one available to guide us through the process of my mother's dying. I have felt a similar sort of panic with my own health care issue and it would be nice to have someone to call, if nothing else for a little reassurance.
Family members and patients get scared - it's a tough time when someone is sick. Kindness never hurts.

I think some of these things may already be in place - they're just not highly visible. There are volunteer opportunities on the webpage but it's hard to locate; I had to hunt for it. Shouldn't these people be promoted - maybe they should be the face of the healthcare community? I would urge Carilion to consider these types of nurturing activities - along with others - so that people can see that the big healthcare provider is there for them as people, not as dollar bills.


  1. I'm glad to see Carilion has a caring, human side. Your suggestions are excellent! I know it's not your calling, but you would be perfect as the head of "CarilionCares". You're really onto something there : )
    I hope you get your 60% and them some!

  2. Sorry to hear you have had such a difficult time received a proper diagnosis/treatment. But, I am glad to hear the action was taken to correct the issue. Hopefully you will move toward recovery.

  3. So glad to hear that Carilion stepped up and took actions to get you into the right specialists. Here's hoping the new meds and PT help!

  4. So glad to hear this good news; now to hear you indeed are feeling better will be the best news yet!

  5. I had a feeling that one of your readers probably forwarded the story to Carilion. As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword.

    Those are all great ideas. A couple of them will cost money. But if these for-profit hospital systems were smart, they'd spend a little money. Sick people are their customers. They should treat them as nicely as I treat my flooring customers, 9 out of 10 who come back to me and speak highly of me to others. It's a win-win.

  6. Great suggestions Anita, hope they are implemented within Carilion and Lewis Gale!

  7. I tried sending a complaint to the above e-mail and comes back looking for information as my 79 year old mother has had horrendous care from a carilion physicion.

    1. Those are fake email addresses I made up because Carilion doesn't offer a place to send something. You need to go to their home page and down at the bottom on the left hand side there is a place to email Carilion. It says something like "direct" to Carilion. That was one reason I suggested the change, there really is no place to lodge a complaint.


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