Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Patients Can't Afford to Blindly Trust Doctors

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Patients Can't Afford to Blindly Trust Doctors

Article excerpt

A parable on health care and where we're heading:

Last fall, I had my annual physical. A week later, my internist suggested I see an gastroenterologist. Blood work showed a low hemoglobin level - 12.3, and anything below 13.0 is a source of concern, he said - and he wanted me checked for iron deficiency anemia.

That sounded reasonable, so I made an appointment. Then I remembered I had donated blood - a double unit of red blood cells, as usual - one month before my physical. You must wait 112 days to donate again to allow your body to replenish the red blood cells, which contain hemoglobin.

I mentioned the donation at the appointment and the staff agreed that could be a factor. But they ordered more blood work and other tests to rule out various things. They also recommended an upper endoscopy - a tube with a camera and light at the tip goes down the throat into the upper digestive tract - to check for internal bleeding, one cause of iron deficiency anemia. Again, it all seemed reasonable.

I called for the test results a few days before the endoscopy to make sure it was still necessary. It's a low-risk procedure but is invasive and involves anesthesia. A staffer said everything came back negative but my hemoglobin level was still low and she said the doctor advised I have the endoscopy.

When I asked for the exact hemoglobin level, she said she didn't have it in front of her but repeated it was low and that I should get the procedure. I said OK and hung up.

That was my first mistake.

The endoscopy was routine. The doctor said everything looked good. I asked him what the hemoglobin level was on that second test and he said 12.8 - a month after the 12.3. Had I known that, I would have postponed the endoscopy and done another blood test in another month. (When I donated again, after those 112 days were up, my level was 15. …

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