Friday, March 14, 2008

A Positive Healthcare Experience

We had another big Brasil first yesterday: the first visit to a Brasilian doctor's office.

No one is sick or dying, but my digestive system, the delicate little system that it is, has been a little less than happy lately, and I decided it was time to see a doctor and find the root of the issue. Eric decided to accompany me because he is a really good, caring, compassionate husband (and/or because he was curious about the doctors' offices here.)

The first step in the process was, of course, finding a doctor. I really don't mind change; really, I don't. But the fact that while in college I used to drive 3 hours in each direction twice a year to visit my (almost) life-long dentist might clue you in to the fact that I don't like changing doctors. I refused to go to the University Health Center when I was a student and instead found a private practice in town because you never see the same nurse or doctor when you go into that place. I prefer to build some semblance of a relationship, and I like it when I recognize the doctor walking in the room and when he remembers me (or at least pretends to after glancing through my chart outside the room before he enters!) So I needed to find a new doctor in my new city/country. And the native language here is Portuguese. And I speak Portuguese (sort of), but we haven't really started learning any medical terminology in my class yet. And the thought of trying to discuss symptoms and such in Portuguese seemed a little intimidating. And then I had a great thought: find a doctor who speaks English!

I've always thought referrals were a good way to go when looking for a new doctor. I like to talk to people, find out who they use, and get a trustworthy recommendation for a good doctor. But it occurred to me that most (okay, all) of my Brasilian friends speak the native language. And I doubt that they've ever tried speaking English to their doctor! (You know, for the same reasons I don't want to try speaking Portuguese to a doctor.) Luckily, our insurance company down here supplied us with a book listing every doctor in their network. My great idea was to go through the list of general practitioners, make a list of all the ones within walking distance (out of convenience and as some way to narrow down the list of a gazillion doctors in this city) and then call around and see if anyone speaks English. One of the secretaries in Eric's office offered to do the calling around for me, since I still have trouble with conversations in Portuguese over the phone! After calling around to the 20 or so doctors on the list I made, she found one who was comfortable speaking English with a patient.

The doctor's office was just 3 1/2 blocks away and also had an open appointment this week. (The open appointment was lucky too, since most of the doctors were booked up through the first of April! We are told that usually if you have an urgent issue then you just go to the hospital. The doctor's offices are more for ongoing or routine care, not "I am sick today and need to see the doctor!") So yesterday at 4:30, we went in for our first doctor's visit . . . very unsure of what to expect.

It turned out to be the best experience I've ever had in a doctor's office! It was a small office, just one receptionist and one doctor. After giving the receptionist my name, insurance card, and a few bits of information (address, phone number, date of birth, etc.) she told me I would just have to wait a few minutes to see the doctor. I didn't have to fill out any forms with the medical history of all my grandparents' siblings' spouses or answer a survey of "have you ever had _____". I just sat in a nice little waiting room, glanced through a current magazine, and chatted with the receptionist. After waiting just 10 minutes, yes, only 10 minutes!, the doctor himself came out and asked us to come on back. He led us into his office. There was an exam room off of his office, but, to start the visit, we sat across the desk from the doctor and chatted. He asked what brought me in and then asked pertinent questions about my medical history, family history, and other symptom-related questions. After a 10-15 minute talk he checked all my vitals and did a brief exam. Then we went back into his office and talked some more. He wrote up a request for lab work, recommended a nearby lab, discussed some of the possible causes for my troubles, gave me a referral to a specialist to narrow down the specific issue, wrote a prescription for some medicine to help with some symptoms, and set me up with a follow-up visit to discuss the lab results. I spent a total of more than 30 minutes with the doctor himself! He never rushed or raced through anything, he took his time, was thorough, and, as I was leaving, I realized it had actually been an enjoyable experience! Since when has a visit to the doctor been enjoyable?

Now, I cannot make any broad, general statements about health care or the doctors in Brasil after my one visit, but, so far, I must admit that I am more than impressed.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I know this isn't exactly relevant to your doctor's visit...but I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog. I'm from California and I'm planning a trip to Brazil in August, so I really enjoy reading a "local's" perspective of life in Brazil.

Laural said...

The part about about what sex Eric is? Hilarious! My husband says it's a good thing he caught it, too, as he would've been stuck with it.