We knew it was bad. We didn’t think it was this bad.

In past editions of MM+M’s annual Patient Issue, we chronicled everything from the increasing sophistication of patient navigator programs to marketing tactics that appeal to the broadening universe of family/friend caregivers to the potential threat posed by the migration of long-established patient communities to the metaverse. Not wanting to re-tread the same ground (or, horror of horrors, attempt to unpack the increasingly meaningless catchphrase that is patient-centricity), we came up with a different approach this time around: We asked our readers to answer two questions about their experiences as patients and health consumers.

Yes, it was a bit of a self-selecting exercise. People who have the time and will to respond to a trade mag’s query about such matters likely aren’t the ones struggling to access care. Thus we expected to hear a lot about first-world headaches: non-interoperable and overlapping tech platforms, the administrative unwieldiness of the country’s multi-payer system and the like.

The responses hit very differently. Forget about annoyances around revoked prior authorizations or the lottery-level luck required to get a live person, perhaps even one who is empowered to help, on the phone — respondents have lowered their expectations to the ankle-high bar of “It’d sure be swell if somebody treated me with basic human decency.”

As patients, they would appreciate it if providers looked up from their tablets a few times over the course of a 240-second turbo-appointment. As caregivers for family members and friends, they’d like to secure appointment slots without navigating a minefield of automated prompts and dead web links.

The responses are simultaneously heartbreaking and infuriating. “I feel like my body is treated as a number of different pieces.” “Remember that healthcare may be your business, but it’s my life. Stop treating me like I’m just the next customer.” The situation is no better for mental health treatment, where a respondent noted that “no one owns the patient.”

Medical marketers can’t address issues related to outdated communication platforms at individual practices; members of the med-tech community aren’t lining up to address the thankless exercise of getting EHRs to “talk” to one another. Broader systemic change presents an even more Sisyphean task.

Ordinarily this is where I’d stop and say, “But here’s what we can do.” In this instance, though, even basic solutions continue to elude people far smarter than I am. Here’s to the day, hopefully not too far off in the future, when we’re more regularly able to describe the broader patient experience in positive terms.