It’s been more than three years since Congress, at the behest of the Obama administration, crafted the Affordable Care Act.
Since that time, affordable and accessible health care has become perhaps the most debated issue in political discourse. But what the Obama administration couldn’t predict would be social media’s growing presence in every facet of American life, including health care.
During the week of April 22, local Garin Sinclair said, she sought the opinion and treatment of a neurologist at the Templeton Institute for Neurology (TIN) for her 74-year-old mother, who suffers from a mild seizure disorder and the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Sinclair’s mother had been seeing another local neurologist, but didn’t feel comfortable with the care she was receiving.
Sinclair said she took her mother to her primary care doctor, who suggested TIN. The doctor explained that TIN operates a Facebook page, and that in order to get an appointment, Sinclair’s mother, or someone in her family, would be required to get 50 Facebook friends to “Like” the Templeton Institute for Neurology’s Facebook page.
Sinclair said her primary doctor was pretty fuzzy on the details, and she thought it was a joke at first.
“I totally don’t understand it,” Sinclair said.
But she told New Times she called the institute again, and the front desk staff explained that in order to get a free second opinion at the institute, she would in fact have to comment about the institute on Facebook and get 50 friends to like their page.
Despite the fact that Sinclair’s mother has premium insurance, Sinclair claims TIN told her the Facebook likes would still be necessary for the second opinion.
“I don’t consider it a second opinion; I consider it getting a second neurologist,” she explained.
Sinclair agreed to try, but quickly realized that neither she nor her mother had the necessary amount of Facebook friends to make such an appointment happen.
So she asked her daughter, Taylor Murphy-Sinclair, to get the Facebook “Likes” for her grandmother.
At first, Murphy-Sinclair was able to get 32 likes on her post, but Sinclair says a TIN staff member called her shortly after her daughter posted to the website, to tell her that the process had been done incorrectly and that her 32 likes had to be taken to the institute’s actual Facebook page, not just Murphy-Sinclair’s post.
Frustrated, Murphy-Sinclair took to the social media site to voice her concerns.
“Ok apparently, continuing the Templeton Neurology saga, you have to also like my ‘wall post’ on their homepage….If you could go back I’d love you forever. Unreasonable people,” she wrote on April 30.
This sparked an outpouring of support for the Sinclair family, and several people took it upon themselves to write their feelings on TIN’s Facebook page.
The institute’s website, templetonneurology.com, notes (without being edited): “Second opinion matters in medicine , and especially in Neurology. It may lead to change in diagnois, adjusment of treatment , or both . This may have impact on the quality of patients’ lives , as well as their families’ quality of life. At our institution ‘Templeton Institute for Neurology’ more than 38% of the second opinions will result in change of the diagnosis or treatment. Second Opinion is free at our institution, in excahnge for the ‘ good will ’ of 50 of your firends liking us on Facebook. No insurance needed even if you have insurance .”
Sinclair claims she wasn’t informed that her mother had the option of paying for the initial consult.
“We see all new patients who seek our help who have not seen a previous neurologist, with no restrictions,” Dr. Amr Al-Hariri of the institute told New Times via his receptionist. “When it is a second opinion, it means the patient has seen a neurologist in the past for the same problem. We use the free second opinion in exchange for the good will of prospective patients’ friends liking us on Facebook. With second opinions we spend much more time than the time usually spent on new patients. Some records are 400 pages, some patients have already seen four or five other neurologists, including from UCLA and UCSF, so the one hour [of] insurance [paying for] the patient-doctor interaction in no way covers the time we spend reviewing the old records, meeting the patient, researching the case, and coming up with solutions. This usually takes hours, so to resolve this problem we are offering it free in exchange for the people telling their friends about the free second opinion. If patients do not want to use the Facebook Free Program, the same high-quality consult is offered in exchange for a fee of $2,500 for the initial consult and then $600 per-hour follow up through Neurology Second Opinion Inc., which is a part of our practice.”
The American Medical Association, which monitors American health care practices, didn’t respond to a request for comment as of press time.
Sinclair said she honestly thought the doctor was trying to get “Likes” to “send free healthcare to Ethiopia or something like that … this, though … I just don’t