The guest was feverish, and his abdomen felt tender and rigid, a sign of peritonitis. He needed to go to an emergency room. I phoned his travel insurance to let them know.
This particular agency was a slow payer, usually a sign that it would be hard to deal with. Sure enough, after hearing the news, the dispatcher informed me that the patient must first go to the Airport Medical Center, an urgent care clinic. It’s not part of a hospital, and the doctor on duty has the same training as I.
Getting a second opinion before sending a client to an emergency room saves the agency money, but it wouldn’t in this case because my patient needed to go. There was always a chance the AMC doctor would send him home, so I phoned the clinic to make sure he thought twice.
No sensible doctor tells another doctor what to do, so I chose my words carefully. I was sending a man with bad abdominal pain and peritoneal signs, I explained. I felt he needed to go to an emergency room and be admitted, but his insurance insisted on an urgent care clinic. He thanked me for the information. “We don’t have too many facilities here,” he added. “But we’ll do what we can.”
“Don’t do anything. Send him to the hospital,” would have been tactless, so I didn’t say it.
Once a doctor decides a patient needs emergency care, allowing a test to change his mind is a bad idea. For example, an abnormal blood count points to an infection. Good. But what if the blood count comes back normal? The answer: send him anyway. Doctors shouldn’t order a test that won’t change the treatment, but we do it all the time.
So the man spent a few miserable hours while the doctor ordered tests that doctors order when a patient has a fever and bellyache: blood work and an abdominal x-ray. I have no idea of the results, but I checked to make sure he’d gone to the hospital, and he had.