Don't Ever Have an Ear Emergency in Phoenix

A couple of weeks ago, I started losing hearing in one ear.  A bit later, it started to hurt.  Suspecting an infection, I called my ENT's office.  They said they couldn't see me for four weeks, and would not let me switch to see anyone else in their 10-person practice (against their practice rules, which raises the question of, from a customer point of view, why there is any benefit to a large practice at all -- the large pool of doctors provides the illusion of more customer service capability but in fact the sole logic of the practice is cost-sharing of overhead and support staff).  So eventually I just went to one of those walk-in urgent care clinics in a strip mall near me and had the GP there look at it.  I found that I did in fact have an infection and got an antibiotic scrip and some drops and was told if it did not get better in 7 days, go see a specialist.

So it has been a week and the pain is mostly gone but I still have lost most of my hearing in the ear.  So I tried to make an appointment at my ENT again -- 4 weeks.  I described my situation, and said something seemed wrong.  4 weeks.

So I talked to two friends who are both semi-retired ENT's.  They said to get my butt to a doctor ASAP because it could be nothing or it could be something really bad that needs immediate intervention.  But no ENT would see me for weeks.  So one of my friends said they would help me, but they needed audiology tests.  Turns out, those are being scheduled 3 weeks out.  I finally called in a favor with a friend of a friend and found someone to test me next Monday, just four days from now.  Four days seems a long wait for something that could be an emergency, but it beats the hell out of 4 weeks.

This is what we have done to the practice of medicine.  With a myriad of professional licensing requirements and regulatory burdens that raise the fixed cost of opening a practice, we have managed to simultaneously raise prices while limiting supply.


  1. Russ R.:

    The situation you described is exactly how Canadian healthcare works.

  2. norse:

    Ouch. First, let me sympathize. This sucks. There is a quip here about how socialized medicine has this terrible flaw with wait times; at least that's the argument I get to hear when I argue about overregulation and cost overruns in US medical care. Personally (and I'll apply that to all walks of life), I'd prefer it if the state got out of licensing entirely and instead allowed all businesses to operate unconstrained, free to obtain and display approval from any private licensing agency.

  3. Joe:

    1. The code word to get seen immediately is "JAW PAIN". My ER-doc friend informed me after my last ear infection that ear + jaw pain can be a symptom of heart problems, and will generally alert the staff that it could be more serious than a simple ear infection. I said this the last time I had an ear infection (I did actually have serious jaw pain) and was seen the same day.

    2. Get a new doctor? For all your talk of shopping to get the lowest priced x-rays for your kid, I'm a little surprised here. There are many docs, at least here in southern California, that are happy to see you if you are willing to pay cash. Not only that, the fees are substantially less if you tell them you'll pay in cash up front.

  4. oneteam:

    I think that is a function of location within the metro area. Out here in Gilbert, I've seen an ENT within days of booking an appointment. I'm sure that'll change eventually, once the dumbing down of our healthcare system takes full effect with Obamacare coming. But for now, medical care out here is quite plentiful.

  5. alanstorm:

    Don't worry, I'm sure that O-care will make eveything MUCH better...

  6. Bram:

    Doesn't limiting supply naturally cause a price increase?

  7. David:

    I live in Sugar Land, Texas. I had some moderate ear pain for a couple of days, so yesterday I called my ENT doctor (hadn't seen him in a couple of years) and they said I could come in this morning. I went in, he cleaned out my ears and gave me some antibiotic drops, with a prescription for more. Hard to believe there aren't some responsive ENT practices in Phoenix.

  8. STW:

    Been there, done that (the ear not the doctor). My GP said it was likely swimmer's ear (I swam laps daily). Only later, after a bout of vertigo while 3000 miles from home and an MRI did an ENT correctly diagnose what was going on. So your doc friends are right; time can mean a lot. I haven't heard anything with my left ear for 18 years. Four weeks the other way may have changed that out come.

    If I read that you're climbing into my diagnostic boat (heaven forbid) I'll give a shout out.

  9. Sam L.:

    Gee. Obamacare has already hit Phoenix.

  10. fearandloathing:

    I sympathize also, I lived in Phoenix from 2001-2006. Something in the system there is broken, I don't know what but there are hardly any doctors and they are arrogant and stupid and lazy. My suggestion is the Mayo clinic. They will get you in quickly, you will pay up front but I am not thinking that is an issue for you.

    After having moved to Houston, I am still overcoming my hatred of doctors. Doctors (like lawyers) are plentiful and eager for your business. I think it may be due to the malpractice caps. My brother is a doctor and he has said that Texas is the go to place if you are a doctor. P.S. if you don't mind sleeping on my couch I am 5 minutes away from the medical district in Houston. I know that you will be taken care of if you were to go to any of the myriad of hospitals there.

    I hope that you get better.

  11. SuperMike:

    For what it's worth, my aunt has been a nurse for an entire career, and I asked her what the worst doctors (as a group) were, and she told me ENT, by far. I didn't know that about the large practice, that is pretty crummy from a patient perspective.

  12. marque2:

    Texas had a severe shortage of doctors and esp obgyn' s a few years back until the passed tort reform . Finally the obgyn situation is easing but they are still catching up.

  13. marque2:

    You got yo search a bit - my CA doctor group told me they had to charge me $120 rather than the $75 they charge my insurance - when I was uninsured for a bit - no matter what I did. There are some cheep doctors in the area -but they are kinda scary.

  14. B Cole:


  15. skhpcola:

    The problem is hardly "professional licensing requirements." Your fetish for the complete abolishment of licensing is misplaced, here. We aren't talking about hair dressers, manicurists, or food trucks. The health care/medical spheres are, I would hope, two places where even functional retards would desire proof of a practitioner's education/training/ability. Like I said, while you are targeting the wrong reason for your wait to see a specialist, you could go to a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, or a natural medicine quack. Practice what you preach and shun real doctors.

    The core, actual, reason for the degradation of our health care system is the intrusion of governments at all levels, primarily the federal government. In the past several decades, the parabolic increase in care and medicine costs has been driven by mandates and diktats from our masters. Medical offices have many support staff to ensure compliance with regulations, which drives up the costs of care.

  16. LarryGross:

    I sympathize. I can see my primary care on the same day but the ent took a week and the dermatologist took a month and that was fast track and the endocrinologist - left - and the replacement is months getting here.

    it varies by doctor and specialty - and as far as I can tell has absolutely nothing to do with ObamaCare. My primary care has no problem seeing quickly even same day if it is urgent. Now, how can we blame delays on govt when my primary care is quick? And how can we blame doc-in-the-box when they can see you walk-in? In the end Warren went to a walk-in and that big, bad, nasty govt - had no effect on them seeing Warren right away.

    we talk about wait times in other countries - but this is an example of wait times in this country - and I bet if you
    did not have insurance, - you be waiting longer...

    easy to blame govt, ObamaCare but then the real world intrudes.

    oh.. and my state has tort laws...

  17. roadgeek:

    Endocrinologist in Austin? Mid-November.

  18. Peter:

    Amen. Had a suspect lumb, two months just to get a ten minute biopsy.

  19. Nathan:

    As someone who hates going to the doctor in the U.S. for precisely this reason, I empathize. It takes weeks to get a GP appointment, and when I get one, the doctor is never less than an hour late. By contrast, I've gone to a doctor twice outside of the U.S. In Malaysia, when I had an ear infection, I asked the concierge at my hotel for help. She called a local clinic to make sure they were open (it was Sunday). My jaw practically hit the floor when she told me that she had just made an appointment for me! I managed to go there, get my prescription, and get back on my lunch break. In Indonesia, I asked my tour guide about seeing a doctor at around 4 to 5 in the afternoon. An hour later, he told me he had made an appointment with a specialist, and apologized that I'd have to wait until 9 the next morning. Something is absurdly wrong with the American medical system when we can't even come close to the convenience and efficiency of developing countries.