I just wanted to consult with neurologist Dr. Elizabeth North.

I have never been treated as poorly by a doctor’s medical staff as I was today by Dr. Elizabeth North’s Neurology Associates NW staff. I’ve been in twice to consult with Dr. North and strangely have never met her.

It’s because of her staff, apparently one particular staff member. And other patients have expressed similar experiences.

If you’ve found my post through Google, ask your doctor to refer you to a different clinic.

The First Visit

referral to neurology associates nw

ZoomCare Referral to Neurology Associates NW

On December 13, 2016, I went in to meet Dr. North to consult with her about symptoms related to my brain tumor. I arrived early at 12:30 pm for my 1pm appointment as I’d been told to but the staff told me that they had no record for any appointment with me. It wasn’t the wrong day … I just wasn’t on the schedule at all. I’ve had probably over a hundred doctor’s appointments since my tumor diagnosis. This had never happened to me before. I was certain I was correct about the appointment time.

The referral from Zoomcare simply said, “Neurology Associates NW”. I didn’t even know Dr. North’s name until the scheduler told me who my appointment was with.

Here’s my calendar entry for that day, note the instructions I’d included 12:30 arrival, 1pm appointment with reminders to bring my MRI, my insurance card and a couple of related medical reports:

Dr Elizabeth North - Neurology Assoc NW Appointment

Calendar Entry to See Dr. North

I protested the situation and asked if I could see the doctor at some point and the staff were awful to me. They refused and reluctantly I left.

I was a bit suspicious frankly. I remembered having some difficulty getting scheduled. I had called them on Nov 23, 2016 and they claimed they hadn’t received the referral even though ZoomCare said they had faxed it. I believe I asked Zoomcare to resend it and I called Dr. North’s office twice more on Nov 30 when they scheduled me. I remember the conversations being strained and one of the staff members seemed annoyed with me.

I began a chat with ZoomCare to tell them what happened and to get a referral to another clinic. I also asked them to call Dr. North to discuss what had happened. I said:

“I’d had difficulty with their staff member on 11/23 and 11/30 scheduling and am wondering if she deliberately didn’t enter the appt … I think it’s very important Zoomcare have someone call over there to speak to a Dr (not office staff). I spoke to the office supervisor and like you she was dismissive of the idea that there was a problem with an employee. But it was super strange…She was annoyed with me over the problem with the zoomcare referral. I don’t think this was an accident. I think it would be unfortunate if zoomcare kept sending people over there without talking to them about it.”

Problems with Dr. North

Chat with ZoomCare Doctor About Neurology Associates NW

Neurologists are specialists, they are difficult to find, difficult to schedule with and it can take a while to get an appointment. While not directly related to the missed appointment with Dr. North, just three weeks later I was taken in an ambulance from ZoomCare to the Providence ICU for a total of three days for an issue that tumors can sometimes cause.

Being denied care can have fatal consequences. Fortunately, I recovered and the hospitalist at Providence referred me to one of their neurologists.

The Second Visit

I had to change insurance in 2018 and Providence doctors were no longer “in network”. My primary care doctor and I decided that I should return to try to see Dr. North. Whether or not the last incident was a mistake, it probably wouldn’t affect things again. I guess I’d forgotten how bad that first visit had gone.

As someone who’s seen a hundred doctors, I’ve learned to be more efficient. I’ve created a generic contact information pdf with my personal information, insurance details and emergency contacts. It’s sharp, here’s the top segment so you can see (redacted):

generic patient form

Excerpt from my generic medical contact sheet

Doctors could ease the burden of patients to such an incredible degree by simply agreeing to a universal standard information page. For people with chronic illness who have to see a lot of doctors, filling out the same information over and over again is tiring and stressful. I build my own contact sheet annually to save my own energy and make these visits less difficult.

When I arrived for my second visit on March 1, 2018, I brought my information sheet, my insurance card, scanned copies of the front and back of my insurance card, a summary of discussion visit items, two brain tumor MRI discs and radiology reports, three pages of medical background e.g. surgeries, medications, family history, current symptoms, and my customized lab history.

Patients don’t show up more prepared than I did today.

Dr. North’s staffers gave me their paperwork and insisted that I fill out their cover sheet which looked nearly identical to mine. I told them that I bring my own and that I was glad to fill in any missing information and sign the page if required. And, I browsed their paperwork for other things unique to Dr. North and filled those out too.

Dr. North’s staffers began to escalate the issue of me using my generic contact sheet. They literally told me that I would not be able to see Dr. North if I didn’t fill it out.

I reminded the staffer that the last time I’d been there I hadn’t been allowed to see the Doctor. I said, “Are you really going to do this?” The exchange stressed me out.

I took the form, I did a reasonable job to complete the missing items and I just sat and waited with it. I figured they’d call me when it was time to see the doctor and I really didn’t want to have further interactions with them. I felt very stressed.

Here are the two pages side by side, all of the information they needed was there:

Then, the administrative staff member called me up and before she even looked at what I’d done, she said I would not be allowed to see the doctor today. She said it was because I refused to provide the form and because I was upset with them about it. I tried to show her that I’d signed the form and filled in the missing information and she looked for a second and said that no I would not be allowed to see the doctor.

She said Dr. North had decided that because of my refusal and my difficulty with the staff, that she would not see me. I asked if Dr. North had seen my information sheet, which I noticed was still in one of the staff’s hands. And that’s when it all clicked for me.

The Problem Staffer

I said to her, “You did remove me from the schedule last time, didn’t you? I remember you.” I realized that it was likely the doctor not only hadn’t seen my information sheet but that she also didn’t know what was happening out here in truth. Then I said, “I’d like to speak to the doctor.” After all, I had an appointment.

That’s when Dr. North’s staffer freaked out and told her assistant to call security and told me to leave. She realized that if I spoke to the doctor and explained my history with her that it might not go positively for her.

I said again, “I’d like to speak to the doctor.” And the staffer told her assistant to call security again and told me to leave again. So I did.

The Big Picture

I’d come into this office well prepared for appointments with Dr. North and both times I was mistreated and today, I was harassed. I had everything needed for the appointment today and they called security on me and kicked me out.

The Legacy Emanuel Hospital’s patient advocate said it was difficult for her to step in because Dr. North and Neurology Associates NW are essentially a tenant in their building (who has the right to leverage the hospital’s security). She did call the clinic on my behalf and encouraged me to write a letter to the doctor. I’ve begun reporting this to other relevant bodies.

Again in December 2017, I was hospitalized for three days for the same condition that I had mentioned earlier. And two weeks ago, there was another momentary scare with my labs. If not caught early, this can be a fatal condition … and for most people, there are no obvious symptoms.

The danger in denying patients reasonable access to care is that you can kill them.

That’s what Dr. North’s team did today, they turned a small problem with a patient who has seen a lot into a denial of care and threatened me with Legacy Emanuel’s security team.

Other Patients’ Experiences

As I browsed the web for reviews by patients of Neurology Associates NW clinic, I was a bit surprised to see a number of largely negative experiences, many about the staff:

  • B.R.: “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a worse experience at a doctor’s office.” (Yelp)
  • J.F.: “I hope the next time I call the office, that the staff will be courteous and patient when interacting on the phone. The person who’s name started with a J was abrupt and a bit rude…She obviously had the wrong person, but it was difficult to get that information across to her. She wasn’t interested in listening to what I had to say…Apparently she didn’t feel that was necessary, and just hung up on me.” (Google)
  • Anonymous: “Absolutely horrible office staff. Extreamly rude. Every time we make an appointment or try to pay a bill it’s a horrible experience. Pam the billing manager was extreamly unprofessional!” (Healthgrades)
  • Anonymous trans person: “I tried to see Dr. North at the NW Neurology Bigot Clinic today and I can’t imagine how it could have gone worse…Once I got into the little room with the doctor I broke down in tears and explained what happened with the staff out front…Ya know, I no longer know why I’m here. It’s clear that your entire office needs sensitivity training…Needless to say, I won’t be going back to see Dr. North, or anyone at NW Neurology.” (RateMDs)

These are highly unusual negative reviews for a doctor’s office.

I noticed today that Dr. North’s staff leave the sliding windows closed by default. They wall themselves off from the waiting area where their patients sit. When I entered today, I wondered if perhaps they were closed. It was weird. A long moment after I arrived, the receptionist slid the window open to talk to me. Then, she slid it shut again. The sliding open and closed repeated with each increasingly difficult interaction with the staff. The office felt a bit like scenes from a Star Destroyer where lowly infantry men and hostages are poorly treated.

I’ve had some bad medical experiences … I don’t write about most of them. Like this one, this story was important to cover. If you need a neurologist, I encourage you to go somewhere else in Portland (but beware of the bureaucracy at OHSU, it’s brutal).

(Note: while Dr. Christopher Ginocchio, who shares the office with Dr. North seems to have good reviews, I have concerns for anyone scheduling appointments with the same administrative staff members that have harassed me.)

Posted by Jeff Reifman

Jeff is a technology consultant based in the Pacific Northwest. Check out Portland Wild, a visual map-driven guide to Portland's public art, its Heritage Trees and its Little Free Libraries.