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Friday, September 12, 2008

SA Medical 'care' has hit rock bottom

(My apologies for the long down time, between the hectic deadline at work recently and all Natz' medical woes, it was unavoidable)

As a chronic disorder sufferer I am something of a hospital and surgery veteran. I have 'fond' memories of these institutions reaching back to the days when our government hospitals were some of the best in the world and medical aid administrators wouldn't dream of paying for private hospital care. Of course it has been well over a decade since government medical care deteriorated to the point where those patients with medical aid would rather opt for private care.

As a fallback, for many years the private hospitals in South Africa offered those fortunate enough to afford their services excellent care. It seems though that the golden age of private medical care is over as well.

Over the last four months my wife, sister and law and nephew have each unfortunately had need of hospital care. Between them they spent time in hospitals belonging to both of the major private groups in SA (Life and Netcare) and had absolutely terrible experiences.

The horror starts with the admission process. In this age of online convenience and practically unlimited storage, the mind boggles at supposedly modern companies that require their clients to provide the same volumes of information (which are already maintained by their medical aid) every single time they visit. What is even worse is that in Life's case the patient must undergo preadmission. This means that a patient is expected to take additional time to get to the hospital before actually coming in for the procedure, just to fill out these forms to provide information the hospital already has from previous visits. One would think this preadmission process would mean on the day of the procedure itself, the patient would be able to walk in and be led to a hospital bed. Au countraire, it is still necessary to wait in reception for admin staff to approve the paperwork. On one occasion we waited in reception for 45 minutes until Natalie was finally allowed to continue to the ward.

Arriving at the ward, memories of friendly nurses eager to help are spoiled by the reality of nursing staff who insist on finishing whatever important private conversation they are engaged in before acknowledging the patient's existence. The nursing care itself leaves much to be desired as well. The nurses 'caring' for Natalie ignored her pleas for something to soothe a headache for well over five hours, Vanessa's were oblivious to her drip having missed the vein and causing swelling and those looking after baby Dayle missed the fact that he had become dehydrated while under their care.

The surgical success rate instills no more confidence. A routine wisdom teeth extraction resulted in months of pain and discomfort as well as three follow-up procedures for Natalie. To top it all off, she ended up coming out of the last procedure (which had nothing to do with her mouth) with a chipped tooth.

To add insult to injury, as a combined result of the miniscule dental limits imposed by medical aids and the need for those follow up procedures, we also sit with sizeable medical bills.

A quick visit to consumer feedback site shows that our experiences are by no means an exception to the rule, and the templated response to complaints on the site is yet another example of the shortcut approach which seems to be becoming the industry norm. To be fair, the administrative staff at the hospital I complained at has been helpful, but this is after the fact and doesn't help solve any of the problems.

I honestly don't know whether the sudden and massive decline in treatment of patients has to do with massive greed and cost cutting in the industry, lack of training or just staff apathy, but whatever it is needs to be sorted out. We are rapidly approaching a point where our expensive private hospitals are becoming little more than extremely expensive hotels with really big first aid cabinets.



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