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Got a Sniffle—Call 911

Got a Sniffle—Call 911

I recently anticipated a visit from a family member, and when I tried to confirm the visit, when she didn't answer her cell phone, I was greeted by a rather long message that basically advised me to "call 911". Which might make sense—if she was a physician, which she is not.

So, impatient at wading through this impersonal businessy message on her personal phone number, I hung up.

When I finally got around to see her, I asked, "Why do you have a 911 message on you phone?"

She said, "It's the law."

"What law?" I asked.

"I was told by the lawyer at the certification board that it was the law."

"I never heard of such a law," I responded.

"That's what he told me," she said. "Check into it if you want."

So I did. And so did Adele—approaching our research in two different directions. Neither of us could find any law, Federal or California that mandated a provider to have an answering message to "call 911."

So, with a bit further research, I came up with a scenario that made some sense. It seems back in the day—remember in the days before voice mail, and before answering machines, we used to have something called an answering service?

So when you called after hours, a real human would tell you that the office was closed. And if you begged and pleaded, the operator might offer to call the doctor—and more often than not, you would get a call back from the doctor. And if it was significant, you might even get a house call.

But, perhaps you called with a seemingly minor problem and a well-meaning operator who had raised several children answered the phone, and made a suggestion such as to have a bowl of chicken soup.

Well, God forbid. God forbid that a non-doctor gives out medical advice. I could image some overpaid lawyer touting, "potential liability," and telling the doctor, "just give her a script that says to tell them to call 911."

And once the seed was planted, it continued to grow, and I'm guessing that some lawyers are continuing to justify their high fees by coming out with this somewhat dated, useless and often poor advice.

For instance, I belong to Kaiser-Permanente, and they don't tell you to call 911*. They tell you to call an advice nurse. Gee, that makes sense.

And besides, what happens when you call 911? First, you are tying up 911 for a non-emergency. "Hey, I'm coughing. What should I do?"















Well, the 911 operator is pretty much set up to direct a police car, a fire car or an ambulance. So you get an ambulance—and it's going to take you to the Emergency Room.

So, for what might have been a little sniffle amenable to a chicken soup intervention—taking ten minutes and costing under two dollars, you are faced with hours in the ER, bombarded by the coughs and colds of perhaps, dozens of others, and adding your own germs to the mix. And soon afterward, you receive a hundreds of dollars bill each from the ambulance company, the hospital, and each of the doctors.

But then again, most people aren't that simplistic—though some may be, especially the poor and the poorly educated. Most others will go to their computers and call up Dr. Google where they will get more advice then they ever asked for—mostly from medical sites, and rarely recommending chicken soup.

Let me further digress, mostly because Adele has become plant-based and chicken isn't allowed. In that case, there are vegan alternatives that may work just as well. Adele's had an ongoing cold and I made her a bowl of Tom Kha Soup (Thai Coconut Soup)—recipe attached.

It seemed to do the trick. It's so good that it opened up her nasal passages and awoken her bland disposition. She even liked it and recommends it to all her sick friends.

I could probably return to the subject of certification boards around now. Rather than turn it into another thesis, let me briefly note the following. Certification boards self certify. Anyone can start a certification board. If someone is certified, should you trust the certification board. Go on the Internet for ten minutes and a couple of dollars and become a certified minister—and you can preside over weddings.

And the most visible—not visible, most visible—of certification boards is the American Board of Internal Medicine. There are many controversies surrounding ABIM such as this NY Times article that declares the fee schedules exorbitant and the testing procedure inappropriate. Personally, I dislike that they punish doctors who practice holistic and Chinese medicine—and most healthcare insurance therefor doesn't cover these modalities. No need to go into a long discussion as to why infant mortality and life expectancy in the US is the worst among developed nations.

So, there you are. Got a sniffle, save yourself a phone call to your provider—call 911. Then get a second mortgage on you home.

~ Al Zagofsky

*Editorial note from Adele—she has returned so I am now reminded of my inadequicies: "You might want to delete the paragraph about Kaiser. Kaiser ALWAYs includes the ‘Call 911 emergency’ in all their messages! You don't hear it,  because i tend to make the initial call and then give you the phone when a real person is on  the line!"  














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