April 22nd, 2017

If United Airlines Ran Your Doctor’s Office Practice

Man Dragged from Doctor’s Office Exam Room; Investigation Ongoing

April 22, 2016

MIDDLETON, MINNESOTA — Mr. Thomas Anderson was scheduled to see Dr. Wilson Smith yesterday for evaluation of low back pain.

He left his appointment with considerably more than that.

In a bizarre series of events that Middleton law enforcement officials are still investigating, Anderson sustained facial injuries and bleeding when he was forcibly dragged out of Smith’s office by security guards when he refused to leave voluntarily.

Meanwhile, startled patients in the waiting room filmed the disturbing event on their cell phones. The videos were posted on Facebook and Twitter, quickly eliciting a chorus of outraged comments, all supporting Anderson’s right to stay.

“I’d been waiting for this appointment for weeks,” said Mr. Anderson from his hospital room, where he is being treated for facial injuries and a concussion. “They had already put me in the exam room, collected my co-pay, and asked me to change into this skimpy gown. No way I was going to leave.”

The problem began when Dr. Smith, who works for United All Life (UAL) Health Corporation, was contacted by the CEO of the company stating that four UAL employees needed to be seen urgently. But when Dr. Smith checked his afternoon schedule, he noted he was completely booked.

Based on policies outlined in a 5,000 word document that UAL patients sign when agreeing to care, the company has the right to deny services based on overbooking — or, in the case involving Anderson, when UAL employees require care.

The policy does say UAL must offer compensation to patients in exchange for being “bumped” from their scheduled visit. Three of Dr. Smith’s other patients agreed to reschedule their medical appointment when told they would receive a $25 Amazon gift card and a $10 discount at Panera (provided they spend at least $20 on food or beverages).

When Mr. Anderson refused the same offer, UAL upped the compensation to include 2 matinee passes to see Smurfs:  The Lost Village. “Those passes are good at any theater,” said Ms. Jenna Gormley, a spokesperson for UAL. “We take our company motto — ‘Get the Friendly Care of United’ — seriously.”

But Mr. Anderson, who is 66, said he had little interest in seeing the latest Smurfs movie and still refused to leave. That’s when Dr. Smith called the security guards, who made the term “bumped” literal.

Middleton law enforcement is now investigating the criteria UAL uses to choose which patients are to be “re-accommodated” under these circumstances.

Most of the other patients on Dr. Smith’s schedule that day had “Elite” status based on paying a higher fee at the time they booked their appointments. This payment allowed them to bring one item (such as a purse or a backpack) and a coat with them to the doctor’s office without incurring extra charges.

Elite patients also had access to more comfortable chairs in the waiting room. Mr. Anderson, who chose not to pay this fee, says he was told by Dr. Smith’s receptionist that he had to sit on a hard stool in the corner, face the wall, and put on an embarrassing hat.

When asked further about these policies, UAL’s Gormley responded, “At UAL, our first priority is always our patients’ safety.”

She then was completely unable to explain how this statement could possibly be true.


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13 Responses to “If United Airlines Ran Your Doctor’s Office Practice”

  1. Max Voysey says:

    Some patients get in the way of business operations. They are revenue units – not people. Is this difficult to comprehend, for experienced capitalists??

  2. Mimi Breed says:

    How many businesses have I encountered where the clerk, or whatever the interface person is called, makes it perfectly clear that as a customer I am merely a nuisance? Most, that’s how many. That’s why I love Amazon.

    I’ve rarely (but not never) experienced the “you’re-a-nuisance” message in a doctor’s office, but a flat-liner handing over a clipboard and a pen used by hundreds of other (sick) people, expressionlessly droning “fill out this form and take a seat” comes close.

    The last time I flew, a coast-to-coast Jet Blue red-eye, I nearly suffocated from claustrophobia in my tiny space and when I deplaned, discovered I had herniated a disk. I’m retired and don’t have to fly any more so I don’t. I’d like to see my grandchildren but I can’t afford another neurological event.

  3. Several years ago , when I was working as a family physician for an academic medical center, they tried to centralized scheduling for our patients. Since we had offices at multiple sites and the schedulers didn’t know the patients or their level of complexity, this was a disaster. Patients would sometimes get scheduled at the wrong site or not be scheduled for an appropriate length of visit. Patients are not widgets and don’t fit into an assembly line system. Fortunately, we were able to get the medical center to change their policy and allow our front office people to schedule our Family Medicine patients.

  4. Nicholas M Timm MD says:

    I really want to rush to the window, throw it open and yell “I’m mad as hell and I ‘m not going to take it anymore “. Oh wait, airplane windows don’t open.

  5. Jonathan Blum says:

    I find this rather inspiring. No more need for our overcrowded hospitals to go on divert. Just select a few patients, hand them a gift certificate for the cafeteria (valid on odd-numbered Tuesdays, expires in two months), and drag them out the door. Voila, open beds!

    Seriously, most of the airline staff are pretty polite, but egregious exceptions are not rare. I doubt the major carriers treat their employees very well, and this trickles down to the way the employees treat the customers.

    It’s ironic that the health-care industry has long looked to airlines as a model for safety. Perhaps there are some elements they’ve neglected. Look around your own hospital. I have been to some where the predominant attitude of employees interacting with families seems to be not “How can I help you,” but “What can I do to get you out of my face?” It won’t get better unless management cares about it.

    • Paul Sax says:

      Many good points, JB!

      For the record, 2 people have contacted me who thought this actually happened, and that I’d copied it from a real news story. Scary even to contemplate that!


  6. Chuck Hicks says:

    Paul – hilarious and doubly so because it could almost be true….

  7. julian O'Brien says:

    The profit seeking owners would be happy if professional services could be dispensed like hamburgers in a drive-thru McDonalds fast food. Just stay seated in your car, out pops a robotic stethoscope, wait 20 seconds and then the comatose client thrusted a bunch of paper plus french fries with your Rx. But… don’t let on! Cars could be redesigned to allow urine samples and arm blood to be taken robotically, so profits could be maximized. The window framed doctor could actually just be a Skype link TV monitor to a 4th world doctor working for yams. The time has come for a united profession intent on restoring private ownership.. a concerted mass exodus by simultaneous resignation from the Wall Street owned Health “Clinics”. April Fool’s Day would suit?

  8. John Dickason says:

    Thanks Paul for the useful satire. The fact is that even we as doctors ourselves are often treated as interchangeable units. It is tough to remain empathetic with each and every patient when we are asked to carry over 2000 often complex patients in our primary care panels. Just as in the airline industry I feel like there are cuts in quality being made for cost reasons, but being pedaled as good patient care.

  9. In my Travel Medicine practice I counsel travelers on a number of risks that their trip might present. These usually relate to preventing infectious diseases. I have never considered that being violently removed from an airplane where one has a valid ticket might also be a travel risk. Must update my advice I guess.

  10. usdin Jean-Pierre says:

    What are: “Smurfs: The Lost Village”. Is it usual in US to buy patients’ appointment?
    I never heard that in France.

  11. Rebeca Plank says:


HIV Information: Author Paul Sax, M.D.

Paul E. Sax, MD

Contributing Editor

NEJM Journal Watch
Infectious Diseases

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