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Physician Describes Arizona Family’s Fear of Medical Cost

An Arizona physician described his experience pushing back against a patient experiencing an emergency and his mother, who was afraid to receive medical care out of a fear of cost, to KJZZ. Mayo Clinic neurologist, Dr. Joseph Sirven, says he was working in a free clinic when a young patient started to have a seizure.

He recovered briefly, but then the seizures repeated themselves over and over and over. Chairs were flung, the room was cleared, staff appeared and we were in the throes of a medical emergency in a setting with minimal resources.

Dr. Sirven, his trainee and nurses did their best to manage the situation, but did not have all the necessary resources. Dr. Sirven says he knew the teenager needed emergency care.

Complicating matters, the patient only spoke an African dialect, and it is unclear how much he understood what I was saying. His mother pleaded with me, "Please do not call 911, please."

The patient’s mother pleaded for the doctor not to call an ambulance, saying that their family would be bankrupted by ER costs. Dr. Sirven made the call anyways, knowing he needed to in order to save the patient’s life. Doctors are allowed to supersede family’s informed consent if immediate treatment is needed to keep the patient alive.

There are limited statistics in terms of the percent of people who actually refuse a treatment out of fear of the cost of the therapy. However, we know from patient surveys that the most commonly cited reason for refusing treatment is financial followed by religious beliefs.

Consumers’ frustrations regarding the cost of their care and lack of clarity surrounding said costs were clear in the findings of Ipsos/Consumers for Quality Care’s latest research. Recent studies and consumer stories suggest that they do, in fact, are forced to make difficult decisions and opt-out of health care services to avoid costly bills.

For his part, Dr. Sirven was happy he made the call to 911, putting the patients’ care above all else.


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