Physician's ER Experience Changes His Mind On Health Care

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Jack Coulehan is a professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook College in New York. He always shrugged off ER horror stories, arguing that, as a skilled and knowledgeable physician, he'd never fall in the black hole of endless and expensive tests.

After a sharp pain in his eye persisted, however, he and his wife went to the emergency room, assuming he had shingles. Though Coulehan and the original ER doctor agreed on the diagnosis and ordered some Vicodin, what followed was a full-day ordeal, complete with opthamologists, neurologists, CT scans, and other unnecessary treatments that ended up billing $9,000 to his insurance company.

Coulehan's opinion about the "trap" in the medical industry has changed, and his essay in Health Affairs and The Washington Post describes how we can all fall into this hole, driven by fear and anxiety.

How can we make stories like mine less common?

The only way is an approach to health-care reform that encourages well-coordinated, standard-of-care practice and simultaneously discourages the irrational, shotgun approach to medicine.

One thing's for sure: I've lost the smugness and condescension I often felt when listening to others' stories about being trapped by the system and manipulated into excessively complex and specialized medical situations. Unlike most of my patients, I actually knew what my diagnosis was and what to do about it, but I learned how difficult it is to remain objective when you're feeling very sick.

This irrational, shotgun approach to medicine adds on thousands of dollars to medical bills every day. This costs the insurance companies more, and inevitably, the consumer.

Leave us a comment or tell us your own ER horror stories. Did fear of an illness drive you to agree to thousands of dollars worth of unnecessary tests? Make your Impact known.