Lousy doctor's visit. Refund possibility?
February 16, 2007 2:30 PM   Subscribe

I wasn't at all satisfied with the doctor I chose for my yearly checkup. What's the best way to get a refund, if possible?

I went on Wednesday, and the usual Doctor problems occurred: was waiting for more than an hour after my appointment, etc.

But the part that bothered me the most was, of course, the quality of the 5-10 minutes he spent with me. He stethescoped me over my shirts, looked in my ears with the pointy light deal, and asked me a couple of questions about drinking, drugs, etc. I told him I had some tinnitus, which he actually laughed at, and proceeded to ask me if I had asthma when I was a child. He (and the receptionist) also told me that my insurance was crap (which I'm aware of), and that I should get better insurance, something with a lower deductible.

He seemed curious as to why I was getting a checkup when I'm not sick, which I thought was odd. He also told me that generally during a checkup, they do a blood test, but since my insurance wouldn't cover it, it could be $120-$140 more out of my pocket. After that, he told me he didn't think it was necessary.

Coupled with the evidence of the more disturbing trend of seeing drug medication advertisements everywhere (I think Zolcam lined the deli paper I was sitting on while I waited), this guy's "Well, you seem fine" attitude really irked me, and I feel like I should try to get my $125 back.

So should I write to him, or the insurance company, what should I ask for specifically, and is all this enough to justify a complaint? I'd really like to go get a more thorough physical somewhere else, but feel rather chumpish paying twice, even for something as mundane as an annual checkup.

Really appreciating the advice in advance.
posted by hoborg to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not gonna happen.
posted by thirteenkiller at 2:32 PM on February 16, 2007

Not gonna happen. Go get better insurance, and then find a real doctor.
posted by SpecialK at 2:36 PM on February 16, 2007

(FYI: I have Blue Cross/Blue Shield, I'm 27 next month and healthy sans some serious allergies, and when I had my 'new patient checkup' last year, my doctor did three vials of blood for tests, + another two for a STD screen I'd requested ... I'm sexually active in a college town :-P, 'strip down to your underwear' physical checkup including reflexes, hernia, joint motion, ent examination with scopes, an ekg to screen for heart disease, and a few other things that I don't remember. If you had a $125 copay, your insurance REALLY sucks, and, to reiterate, your doctor sucks even more.)
posted by SpecialK at 2:40 PM on February 16, 2007

I'm with them. No chance at all.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:43 PM on February 16, 2007

I doubt you are ever going to get any recompensation from this visit. In my experience, I have found physician assistants and nurse practitioners to be totally awsome for annual exams. Not only do they take more time with you and listen well, they often are cheaper. I currently go to a nurse practitioner/midwife for all my medical needs and we have become good friends and knit at each other's houses (not to mention that the level of care and advice I get is wonderful).
posted by Foam Pants at 2:44 PM on February 16, 2007

Sorry you didn't like his attitude or his work. But surely you don't expect him to work for free.
posted by jayder at 2:52 PM on February 16, 2007

No way you get a refund, but write the letter. A "physical" in a healthy 27 y/o really is pretty redundant. And NP's usually take more time. But the key, to me, is, when seeing a patient for something that seems entirely unnecessary, the first rule is to remind yourself that, to the patient, it's very important, and to make it seem like it is for you as well.

The notion of a "complete physical" is a constant source of contention and debate in medicine.

Sorry you were treated shabbily. Change doctors.
posted by docpops at 2:52 PM on February 16, 2007

Did you pay the $125 to him or did the insurance company pay?

If it was you, then do the normal things you do for any dispute over services.
Ask for a refund first from the doctor's office.
If that fails, stop payment on the check/call up the CC company and dispute the charge, etc.
Doctor services are no different than any other service industry.

If the insurance co., is paying, you can call them up and tell them the same thing you told us. Let them fight it out with the doctor.

And, even though I'm sure you already know this, waiting an hour for _any_ sort of appointment is unacceptable and should be your sign to take your business (and health) somewhere else.
posted by madajb at 2:54 PM on February 16, 2007

He seemed curious as to why I was getting a checkup when I'm not sick, which I thought was odd

This is they key sentence for me. You didnt set expectations correctly with the doctor. You cant just use the words "annual checkup" and hope they mean the same to everybody.

My current doctor wont do "physicals" or "checkups." It's more symptom-driven. I go to the doctor with one or more specific concerns and we address those. Sometimes she might say "Around this age, we should start thinking about X" Any of these things may involve a blood test but before you do a blood test it helps to know what things to potentially screen for.

This sounds like a normal part of the "first visit" and why most people establish ongoing relationships with a doctor. Mutually agreed upon expectations.
posted by vacapinta at 2:55 PM on February 16, 2007

You're wasting your time if you expect a refund; there's no "satisfaction guaranteed" policy at most doctor's offices. If you think the service sucks, you don't come back.

Don't go back.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:21 PM on February 16, 2007

Joining the chorus. Writing the letter might make you feel better, but it's not likely to get you a refund. Find a doctor you trust.
posted by bilabial at 3:26 PM on February 16, 2007

I'm nthing the fact that you will not be getting a refund and also seconding the option to choose an NP next time 'round for a general checkup, or a doctor of osteopathy. Alternatively, do you have friends or family that have a more 'human' doctor that invests more time with his/her patients? This is what referrals are for.
posted by Asherah at 4:36 PM on February 16, 2007

While you're busy not getting a refund and finding a doctor you trust, don't forget to tell everyone you know about your experience with this guy. He's clearly phoning it in.....
posted by Thrillhouse at 4:58 PM on February 16, 2007

I tried getting a refund from my doctor once. I thought it was going to work, but it didn't.

I went to the guy for two reasons: 1) I had a cough that wouldn't go away, and 2) I needed a physical form signed - I had been there for a physical a few months prior and asked him to sign off on it.

1) He didn't do anything for my cough. Told me it would go away. It didn't. Went to an urgent care place eventually, they took care of it. 2) He charged me almost $400 for a "full" physical, which I didn't ask for, nor did I even realize he performed!

So. The moral of the story: I initiated a charge back with my credit card. The doctor wrote some nasty letters to my credit card company, and they refused to charge back the money.

The credit card company suggested I get in touch with the local attorney general or department of consumer affairs.

Not the answer you want to hear, I'm sure. But good luck!
posted by scottso17 at 4:59 PM on February 16, 2007

These answers villainizing the doctor are kind of strange, based on what we have been told. Nothing the doctor did sounds very bad to me.

-- He actually tried to help the patient by advising him to get better insurance.
-- He said he'd be happy to do bloodwork for an extra $120, but tried to save the patient money by saying it probably wasn't necessary.
-- There's no reason for anyone here to believe that you CAN'T be stethascoped through a shirt.
-- The patient complains vaguely of the "quality" of the ten-fifteen minutes.
-- The patient is "irked" by the fact that the doctor's attitude is that he seems fine. Sounds like he should have been more specific in what he was asking the doctor to do.

So he didn't click with the doctor -- this means the guy shouldn't get paid? If the consensus here is that doctors should only get paid if they give their patients a nice warm-and-fuzzy feeling all over, then fine -- but that seems unreasonable.

I have been irked, myself, by the harried attitude of doctors who barely have time to answer patients' questions. I was irked enough by it that I asked a doctor I know what he thought of this problem. His answer was "find another doctor." But never did it occur to me to try to prevent a doctor whose manner I didn't like from being paid. That seems like a really petty way to handle it.

Stuff like this just fits in with the "doctors are gods" mentality that prevails in our culture. When they act in a way that's not worthy of gods, people don't think they should get paid. That's going too far, I think.
posted by jayder at 6:12 PM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know. I'm a little surprised at the "well, he deserves to be paid" attitude. Look at the first ten answers. They are almost unanimous. People just accept that no matter how bad the service is, you can't get money back from a doctor. Why not?

Jayder, in the same sentence you complain that people think of doctors as gods, and then claim that they should be exempt from something that every other servince industry provides for: refunds for poor service. Pick a side.
posted by Nothing at 6:45 PM on February 16, 2007

Medicine is not a service industry.
posted by docpops at 6:48 PM on February 16, 2007

Medicine is not a service industry.

Yup. Anyone in the service industry could tell you that. We have to work hard, do our jobs well, make our clients happy no matter how crazy they are, LISTEN, and get paid shite.

THAT, docpops, is the service industry. Doctors need not apply.
posted by metasav at 7:02 PM on February 16, 2007

I had a horrible experience with a doctor last year and was able to get my copay back because I'd paid with a charge card: I called the credit card company and told them I hadn't received services. (Which was true because the doctor pissed me off so much I walked out in the middle of the appointment.) I also complained to the medical group the doctor was part of, which probably kept the doctor from responding to the charge card retrieval request.

I kind of have to wonder why you were seeing this doctor without a specific health issue, though.
posted by Violet Hour at 7:05 PM on February 16, 2007

Response by poster: Wow. I didn't expect such a good chat about this!

To clarify: I am in reasonably good health (as much as any non-exercising, ramen-eating 25-year-old can be expected), I paid for this myself (not my insurance company) with a credit card. The doctor was chosen because he was the doctor nearest to my home that was listed on my insurance (BlueCross!) website.

As to why I went in the first place - I've always been told that a yearly checkup is normal, like dentist visits. I liken it to the 30,000-mile check. I took my Honda Civic to the mechanic, and he asked me if it ran. I said "yes", and he said "then my work here is done. You can make the check out to Cash." I'd appreciate an attempt to kick the tires or at least pop the hood, to stretch my metaphor.

I don't expect a refund. It's too late to stop the payment, as this was Wednesday.

Sorry you didn't like his attitude or his work. But surely you don't expect him to work for free.
Agreed. I do expect him to work, however. If I was making $750/hr, you can bet my attitude would be a bit more caring. You're right. I can't for certain say that a stethoscope through the shirt wouldn't work, but I don't have the phone number of every other doctor I've ever been to, heard of, or have seen on TV, so I can't call and ask.

I'm a Seinfeld fan; I had forgotten how similar my Sinatra-free experience was to that episode.

Finally, I apologize to any doctors. I have nothing but respect for the dedication of health care professionals. As to whether or not medicine is a service industry, though, it would seem that the U.S. Census Bureau seems to think that it is.
posted by hoborg at 7:28 PM on February 16, 2007

The only sure way to get out of a medical bill is to basically allege malpractice. This doesn't seem to qualify. Nevertheless, you might write to him and say you are refusing to pay anything beyond what your insurance covers because he failed to deliver basic medical services for a check-up and infer that his lack of care is essentially malpractice. If he persists in collection threaten to report his shoddy care to the state medical board. If he still persists, pay to protect your credit and then still report him. All along you need to be respectful and clear that your refusal to pay is due to his failure to deliver reasonable medical care. From the brief description it's hard to say whether he actually failed or not. For instance, the wait time is irrelevant to that, although poor customer service. I personally would just pay and then find someone better for my care.
posted by caddis at 7:52 PM on February 16, 2007

Medicine is not a service industry.
posted by docpops at 6:48 PM PST on February 16 [+][!]

Well, it damn well ought to be. Doctors who can't keep patients don't stay in practice.

As to why I went in the first place - I've always been told that a yearly checkup is normal, like dentist visits.

Normal maybe, useful, no. [NYT]
posted by Violet Hour at 7:52 PM on February 16, 2007

Best answer: I don't expect a refund. It's too late to stop the payment, as this was Wednesday.
Is it? A lot of medical offices are pretty slow about processing payments. It's worth a shot.

Forget the "It's a doctor" part of it, and just do what you'd normally do if you felt you got the shaft from a business.

Whatever you do, don't roll over and take it, that's how poor service survives.
posted by madajb at 7:59 PM on February 16, 2007

I love my internist. I went in for a physical, and felt she listened to my concerns, reassured me about various risks I was worried about, and educated me about my general health.

In the half hour she spent with me? She barely did any medicine-ing. Blood pressure, though I think the nurse did that. Blood work, yes, but only because I had specific concerns about stroke or heart issues, due to family history. That... was about it.

You may not have liked the guy, but that doesn't mean he provided you with substandard medical care. I know that arrogant doctors suck -- I've had to put up with them in the past, and I wouldn't go back to them -- but that still doesn't this particular doctor was shoddy.
posted by occhiblu at 8:47 PM on February 16, 2007

He said he'd be happy to do bloodwork for an extra $120, but tried to save the patient money by saying it probably wasn't necessary

In the vast majority of cases, it's not "necessary," in that it will reveal nothing wrong. In the small minority of cases where it does reveal something wrong, it's quite necessary. That's sort of why they do it, right?

For an asymptomatic 25-year-old, skipping blood work to save the money, or having a checkup only every few years instead of annually, probably does make sense. But it's a calculation based on various risk factors, and that's something a decent GP should take 20 seconds to explain to you, as opposed to the dismissive approach this doctor apparently took.
posted by staggernation at 9:01 PM on February 16, 2007

Annual physicals for healthy adults have no medical benefit.

Your doctor was trying to save you money. Thank him and don't go back again until you need some medical treatment.
posted by alms at 9:06 PM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

When you find a doctor you like, you'll go there for years and years. They'll make a lot of money, and you'll be well taken care of.

So, this one didn't work out? Walk away, forget about the refund, and remember that if you really think something's wrong with you, the extra money for a second checkup is a small price to pay to find out.

Also consider the possibility that he was having a bad day. I took our newborns to a doctor for a post-birth eye followup, because one had gotten an infection after he was born. I was left in the waiting room with my newborns for over an hour, and when he finally saw us he was rude, cold and abrupt, and seemed distracted and uncaring. I vowed never to go back -- and we haven't, and never will -- but we did find out the reason (theoretically) for his behavior: his elderly father had passed away the night before.
posted by davejay at 10:59 PM on February 16, 2007

As to why I went in the first place - I've always been told that a yearly checkup is normal, like dentist visits.

Not if you're a twenty-something male with no symptoms and no history of medical issues at a young age. I'm also a 25 year old male, eat a fair amount of crap, but started getting more exercise lately. I had a minor health concern a while ago and went to the doctor and asked while I was there when I should be thinking about a physical, etc. -- he asked if I had any specific concerns then mentioned that I could probably have a physical between now and when I'm 30, and then go for regular ones every few years after that.

You body isn't like a car that needs some sort of maintenance or check-ups because things get worn out. You're likely going to notice if something's going bad.
posted by mikeh at 7:00 PM on February 17, 2007

Best answer: Prior to 40, spend a fair amount of time checking your skin for changes [including places the sun never reaches], and if you are a guy, check your testicles regularly, and if you are a girl, your breasts, for changes. Most other illness will show symptoms, or isn't detectable during a routine exam. The point of a physical in a young m/f is mostly to counsel you to stop doing stupid things, check your blood pressure, skin, and privates. So it's not at all "a waste of time", but it is often somewhat surprising to the public that it is generally so mundane.
posted by docpops at 8:00 PM on February 17, 2007

Response by poster: The point of a physical in a young m/f is mostly to counsel you to stop doing stupid things, check your blood pressure, skin, and privates.

Ok, so, lesson learned. I'll not go for another annual exam for a while. I appreciate all the help. However, if what you say is true above, then my doctor missed the point entirely, since the only part of that I got was the blood pressure test. I hadn't realized it was going to be a oral exam. I'll be writing his office a letter to see if I can get it resolved, and I'll ask for half of the money to be refunded. If they don't respond in the way that I wish, I'll write Blue Cross, and see if that helps.

I'll keep AskMefi posted, and choose a best answer then.
posted by hoborg at 11:30 AM on February 20, 2007

Response by poster: Well, I sent out my letter on Saturday, and I just received a call from my doctor. He apologized, is going to refund my money and would like me to come in Thursday at 9am for a free re-check.

I'd like to thank madajb for the support and docpops for the insights. If anyone would like to know what my letter entailed, feel free to email, as obviously it contains semi-personal info.

Thanks again, mefi.
posted by hoborg at 1:35 PM on February 26, 2007

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