Mrs. WhiteCoat had a patient issue and doesn’t know how to proceed, so she asked me to post the case for other people to comment upon.
A patient came to her practice 2 years ago with thyroid problems. She had been seeing an endocrinologist for several years before seeing Mrs. WhiteCoat and even the endocrinologist was having problems controlling the patient’s thyroid using medications. On the first appointment, Mrs. WhiteCoat performed an exam and found a thyroid mass which ultimately turned out to be cancerous. She referred the patient to an ENT surgeon for thyroid removal. The patient never followed up with Mrs. WhiteCoat after that.
A few days ago, the patient sends Mrs. WhiteCoat an e-mail saying that she is doing well and asking Mrs. WhiteCoat to call in a refill of the patient’s thyroid medications. Mrs. WhiteCoat wrote her back and said that she had not evaluated the patient since having her thyroid out almost 2 years ago, that she has no idea what the patient’s latest thyroid labs showed, and she doesn’t even know the patient’s medication dose. She stated that she wouldn’t call in a refill without seeing the patient in the office, examining her, and going over the patient’s labs with her.
The patient wrote back that she had “normal” thyroid labs in February and has been on the same dose of thyroid medications for the past year. She couldn’t afford to miss work any further, doesn’t want her thyroid to get out of control again, and appreciated Mrs. WhiteCoat’s understanding in calling in the prescription.
There are two ways of looking at this.
One one hand, the patient is probably stable after having her thyroidectomy and most likely will be continued on the same dose of medication if she does come in for evaluation, so an office visit would likely be low yield. That being said, when things go wrong, nobody thanks you for cutting corners to save them money. If the thyroid cancer returns, or if there are signs of metastasis somewhere and they are missed, then what happens?
On the other hand, some people may think that requiring patients to come to the office under circumstances like this is just being “greedy.” Mrs. WhiteCoat has student loans, office workers, office lease, malpractice insurance, and a dozen other expenses that she has to pay in order to keep the office running. If she provides free telephone services to all patients, then soon there may no longer be an office for patients to call for their refills.
I suggested that if another doctor is ordering lab tests on her, that doctor should be refilling her medications.
We kind of touched on this issue in a previous Open Mic Weekend, but now it’s a real situation.
What should she do?