Wanted: A doctor who doesn’t keep you hanging around
ROBERT THOMAS ALLENNovember11970
Wanted: A doctor who doesn’t keep you hanging around
OUR VIEW YOUR VIEW
Listen, doctor, our time is money, too_
Let’s make sure the poor are always with us
Y our view on that commune: a housewife who lost heart finds a clue to the secret of life
ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN
THE LAST TIME I had an appointment with an eye doctor I was short of time and worked right through my lunch hour, then took a cab, through heavy afternoon traffic, which cost me $2.50 plus tip, ran up a flight of stairs, and arrived at the doctor’s office perspiring, puffing and hungry, but on time. Then, I spent the next hour chainsmoking and staring dully at a picture of a fishing boat in the doctor’s waiting room with four other patients who were ahead of me, including one man in a plaid shirt who told me he’d been waiting for an hour before I arrived and that he had a boat-rental business in Bala and had to get back to it because it was the peak of the tourist season. I could have come uptown by ox cart and the doctor would never have known the difference. I hope that, if he ever puts on a mask, looks down at me, snaps, “Needle!” and goes after my retina or something, his sense of timing is better than when he makes appointments.
I know there’s only one doctor to every 865 people in Canada, and it
wouldn’t surprise me to hear that he had told them all to be at his office at the same time because he’s obviously utterly disorganized. Last June 27 my wife madè an appointment with a woman doctor for 2 p.m. on August 27 — two months ahead. When she arrived, 15 minutes early on the right day, there were no other patients waiting. The secretary took her name and medical insurance number but by 3 p.m. nothing else had happened. At 3.05 p.m. the doctor came out of her office and disappeared down a corridor. She may have come back, but my wife didn’t wait to find out, and I don’t blame her. A few weeks ago, a friend of hers had an appointment at one o’clock with a doctor in a hospital for a minor, but painful, bladder infection. At 4.05 p.m. she mentioned that she’d been there for three and a half hours and had to get home. She waited four hours for a job that took a technician three minutes. This isn’t helping the doctors, nurses, the patients, the hospital or humanity. It’s a foolish waste of everybody’s time. If I kept appointments like that I’d be out of work in a week. If an editor, politician, president of an oil company, flight despatcher or car mechanic says he’ll see you at 2.30 p.m., by and large he sees you at 2.30 p.m. When a doctor says he’ll see you at 2.30 p.m., it apparently never crosses his mind that you might take him seriously. I think it’s time he stopped running his business as if nobody else had to make a living. I know doctors are under pressure. I could even understand it if they were falling behind in their work. But they aren’t falling behind in their work. They’re keeping up with it, in their own way, an hour and a half behind. They must know that they can take an average of a certain number of patients a day, that there’ll be a certain number of phone calls, and delays. Why can’t they make allowances for them, say what they mean, and keep roughly some kind of schedule? Dentists can do it. The Canadian Medical Association obviously thinks doctors can do it because they send them a booklet tell-
ing them how to do it and warning them that delays from over-scheduling break down relations with the patient. One official with the Ontario Medical Association told me that the president of the association was horrified recently to learn that a teacher in a school for medical secretaries had been telling her classes to always let a salesman from a pharmaceutical or other medical supply company in ahead of patients. The president put a stop to it, but I don’t blame the teacher. She’d obviously picked up her opinion of patients from the way doctors keep them waiting. These bad habits are as contagious as the common cold, and the doctor’s habit of offhandedly squandering other people’s time is getting worse, and things don’t look any better, if as good, for future generations. The University of Western Ontario canceled a 20-week elective course, which dealt with how to schedule patients, because medical students weren’t showing any interest in it.
But the really awful thing is that patients are getting into the habit of accepting all this as if it were as inevitable as sagging arches. One old gent told me the other day that he had a really good doctor. “When he says be there at 9.30 a.m., by gosh you better be there,” he chuckled happily. I thought I’d discovered a doctor who was really seeing people on time and I asked him if he meant he got right in to see the doctor and he said, “Oh, no, there are always about four people ahead of me.” When I asked him why the doctor would make appointments for four people at the same time, he looked at me in surprise and said, “Oh, well, that’s so he won’t be kept waiting,” which apparently he thought was quite reasonable. Well I don’t. If everyone operated that way the nation’s business would grind to a halt.
I think when a doctor says he’ll see you at 9.30 a.m. he should mean he’ll see you at 9.30 a.m. and not that you can come in and begin waiting at 9.30 a.m. Then he’ll be on time for the next patient, which will make everyone feel better.
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