Like many of the other inters, I wanted to become an intern at Crossroad Health Center to further help people beyond what I was able to do previously in my community service. One of the main tasks of a Crossroad Interns is “referral tracking”. This entails going through a list of patients who were referred to doctors other than their primary care physician such as an ophthalmologist, dermatologist, gastroenterologist etc. For many, the importance of patients going to their referrals may not be apparently obvious. But, consider a patient who has diabetes, and is at high risk for infection and blindness. Making sure a patient with this disease is able to go their ophthalmology appointment could be the difference between them being able to see and losing their sight. Because of the potential high risk nature of many of the patients who receive care at Crossroad, I am able to “help” patients by assisting them in finding the correct contact information for these specialists and make appointments.
A question that came to mind while doing referrals is how much am I actually helping? I think the answer to this question, for me, differs patient to patient. A couple of weeks ago, a fellow intern and I were able to schedule three different appointments at three different doctor’s office for one single patient. Additionally, we were able to look up the bus routes from the patient’s house to these different locations and included the times in which he needed to arrive at each bus stop location in order to make his appointments on time. We sent this information to the patient in the form of a voicemail as well as a letter. Besides having many health complications, this patient was also cognitively disabled. And not to discount his best efforts, but scheduling on his own would have been almost impossible. I called this patient back this week, and he confirmed he was able to make all of his appointment.
Conversely, there are patients who have the means to call and make their appointments, but still, we call them anyways and ask if they have been able to schedule an appointment, and if not, if they need us to assist them. Weeks later, we call back to see if they went to their appointment, and if not, the cycle of making an appointment begins again. To be frank, I believe by making the appointments for the patients who are capable is enabling them to not take the proper accountability for their health. Aside from just helping them with referrals, and by that, I mean clarifying which kind of doctor they need to go to, and providing them with the number to call, we can help them take responsibility for their health by not simply doing things for them, but giving them the proper resources to make the appointments on their own.
I urge my fellow interns and future interns to evaluate their methods in which they handle referrals and ask yourself: “what can I do to help this person, but not enable them to not take responsibility?” Once again, I think evaluating each patient individually and accessing their capability to make an appointment or what information they will need in order to make an appointment on their own will be of more help to them in the long run. The resilience of many of our patients would probably surprise us all. Our desire to help shouldn’t outweigh the patient’s own responsibility to their health.