Monday, November 7, 2011

On Cell Phones And Primary Care

For a brief interlude, the world moved in slow motion. I saw the cell phone leaving my hand and twist and turn wantonly in the air. It fell onto the pavement with a loud thud. I stared at the lifeless object. It's face hugged the ground. I cautiously bent down and turned it over in my palm.

With great horror, I looked at the distorted face. A large fissure splayed from the corner like children's fingers striving to frantically grasp the unreachable.

I felt a vague sense of discomfort vibrate through my body. What could I do now? The phone calls from the nursing homes would not stop for a broken phone. I pressed the power button. The display lit up, but half of the view was shrouded in black. The dial pad worked but the smart functions were unusable.

For the next few hours there would be no email, no twitter, no blue tooth, and no Internet access. I was in the middle of nowhere. In, of all places, Wisconsin.

And so the odyssey began.


I cut my trip short and drove to the Sprint store close to my house. I browsed for nearly an hour while I waited for the customer service agent. I impatiently explained that, as a doctor, I needed cell phone access restored as soon as possible. The calls were already piling up.

The room suddenly started to spin. I lifted my arm to wipe the sweat off my forehead and tapped my feet. Apparently, I had few options. I could buy a new phone for $500 or I could take it to their service center.

I stomped out of the store and drove twenty minutes to the Mecca of phone repair. By the time I walked into the building, my levels of agitation were rising. It had been hours already, and still no resolution.

The clerk at the front desk was courteous but unhelpful. He explained that although they had the capability, the service center wasn't authorized to fix trauma induced phone damage. As I turned to leave, he slipped me a piece of paper with the name of an independent repair company.

Shh. You didn't get that from me!

I slammed the door on my car and frantically dialed the number. After multiple rings the line went dead. I called back again. The same response.

It was Sunday afternoon. Come Monday morning, I would be faced with an onslaught of phone calls without blue tooth or hands free dialer. I only had use of half of the dialing pad. And I couldn't use twitter!

Needless to say, it was a sleepless night


As I explained to my office manager my predicament the next morning, my medical assistant chimed in on our conversation.

I know exactly what you need!

She made me an appointment to a repair shop close to my home. I struggled all day to use my nonfunctional phone. I pulled over three times on the highway to return pages.

By the time I walked into the shop, I was at the end of my rope. I was hungry and tired. I was grumpy. And I wanted my cell phone fixed.

The gentlemen who owned the store greeted me at the front door.

You've come to the right place. We'll have it fixed in no time.

They were kind and courteous. When they didn't have the right parts, they came up with a creative solution. At one point, they called Sprint themselves to fix my settings.

They were not only professional but empathetic. How many stressed out customers had walked through their doors with similar needs? One of the owners pulled out a bucket of broken cell phone parts.

This is just from today!

An hour later, I was on my way home. My phone was fixed for a third of the price I expected. My blue tooth was perched on my ear and my hands free dialer was reinstalled.

I felt the knots in my chest relaxing.

And then it dawned on me. I wonder how often patients walk out of my office feeling this cared for?

How did we PCP's lose our way?

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