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Getting Impatient in Doctor's Office

December 24, 1987|DON G. CAMPBELL | Times Staff Writer

Question: The other day I waited in the doctor's office for more than 45 minutes. I was there to receive a second opinion. The waiting did not bother me until I overheard the doctor on the phone (for more than five minutes) talking about his personal life, not business. That did it! I stormed out without waiting for his medical opinion.

My questions:

--Because I left without consultation, can the doctor legally charge me for one? If he bills me, how should I handle it?

--There were X-rays taken earlier by the doctor and the hospital. Are they his or am I, as a consumer and patient, allowed to ask for them? What if he refuses, forcing me to have new ones made?--R.J.

Answer: You are getting into some mushy ground that falls somewhere between legalities, ethics and just plain common courtesy. There are doctors who would rather face a root canal job than keep patients waiting unnecessarily. There are others who will keep six patients waiting endlessly while they chat about their golf game. They're human.

"I know one doctor," said David Zeitlin, director of communications for the Medical Assn. of Los Angeles County, "who automatically gives a hefty deduction for office calls whenever anyone is kept waiting--even on those occasions when the doctor is tied up with an emergency and the delay isn't his fault."

Because you didn't have a consultation, Zeitlin feels, you shouldn't be billed for the visit. This, of course, is not quite the same thing as being billed for an office visit that you, the patient, don't keep and that you didn't bother to cancel in ample time for another patient to be booked into your time slot.

This, obviously, wasn't your first visit to this doctor, because he was the one, presumably, who ordered the X-rays in the first place for the purpose of rendering his second opinion. The first visit apparently went over a little more smoothly than this last one did.

The general rule, Zeitlin said, is that if you have been billed for and have paid for the X-rays, then they're yours. And if you go to still another doctor for this elusive second opinion, they should be made available to you for this purpose.

Naturally, there's room for disagreement here, and this doctor may indeed try to bill you for the office visit and balk at turning over the X-rays to you. This is where you turn to your country medical association, lay out the key features of this dispute and let the association investigate the matter.

Q: I have been having great difficulty in receiving a reimbursement from United Parcel Service for the contents of a package they lost. Enclosed is a copy of the letter explaining the matter in detail.

I would appreciate it if you would advise me on how this situation should be handled. Can UPS refuse to take responsibility as it has demonstrated? Please help. I am sure that I am not the only person in this predicament. UPS, or any postal service for that matter, should not believe that it can get away with such negligence.--A.H.

A: According to your correspondence with UPS, you weren't at home when the parcel came originally, and so you (as is the common practice) later signed a slip that the UPS driver left, authorizing him (or, in this case, her) to leave the parcel at your door. When no parcel subsequently showed up, you contacted UPS, which investigated. The driver insists that the package was, indeed, left at your apartment door, but your apartment manager and neighbors saw no evidence of it. UPS promised to run a tracer on the shipment, but at this point, negotiations between the two of you apparently broke down.

At UPS' home office in Greenwich, Conn., a public relations spokesman for the parcel service, Al Winnick, concedes that when a firm handles 9 1/2 million packages a day--with gusts up to 16 million at this time of the year--a few of them, sure enough, go astray. But trying to dodge responsibility for the strays, he added, certainly isn't part of UPS' game plan.

Winnick, in turn, put Richard Lenzi, the company's customer service manager in Los Angeles, in touch with me and, because your letter to me, at this juncture, was several weeks old, Lenzi feels sure that the matter has probably been resolved by now. However, he has promised to contact you and make sure that it definitely has been.

UPS prefers, Lenzi added, to leave parcels with neighbors, just to be on the safe side, but will, indeed, redeliver them to the recipient's front door if (in the case of a house) the parcel can be left safely out of sight or if (in the case of an apartment) the building seems secure.

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