I’m not a very patient person. But there are circumstances where patience learned, is used. Like the DMV. Like amusement parks. Like most formal ceremonies (think graduation), where you’re only concerned with one itsy bitsy teeny tiny moment, but you have to get through the first 10,000 seconds to get to the fleeting moment YOU care most about.
All that is to say, I can be patient.
But I lose my religion at the doctor’s office.
Over a decade ago in Nebraska, I once waited more than an hour and a half. Finally (obviously I didn’t care about going back to work), I went up and checked at the desk. The clerk had forgotten to pass along my file to the nurse. When I was called soon after, the nurse condescendingly said something like, “you’re lucky we can see you this late”. I ripped her a new one, explaining that her desk clerk just lied to try to cover up her own mistake. She was embarrassed, and left the room seething. I’m sure the desk clerk got a new one too!
Years ago, at an OB/GYN appointment in Oakland, I pre-emptively asked if the doctor was running late, paid the fee, changed into a gown and then sat in a waiting room for over an hour. I actually left the room to go ask if they had forgotten me. No, the doctor was called to the hospital for a birth. Well, it wasn’t mine, so why was I waiting?! Moments like those really piss me off. Offices think that I have nothing else to do, or at least nothing that rivals waiting for the doctor. What would be so wrong in including customer service in a physician’s office? Would could be so wrong in communicating with me or offering to reschedule?
In many situations, we do wait patiently because we need them. If I have an infection, I need a prescription, and there’s only one place to get that. I also wait because I understand that other people have turns, appointments, and sometimes more urgent needs (i.e. giving birth). But let’s make it a reasonable wait, not an open-ended assumption.
What offices fail to tell you is that you are not at their mercy. You don’t have to absorb the office’s mis-management, or running late, or overscheduling. You don’t have to take it.
Now, I habitually ask, before I pay, whether the doctor is on time. If not, it is my choice whether to wait. Especially with an HMO, where we are presumably a little higher ranking than cattle (as in – we are not prodded to get along, doggy), appointments are capped into 20-minute slots scheduled back-to-back. If one person, just one, goes over their time allotment, scheduling is shot and the snowball effect just grows.
8:45: So, Friday when I walked into my bi-annual mammogram checkup and they were running an hour behind, I said I’d reschedule. But the clerk overheard they had caught up, and I went ahead knowing that a second appointment was strategically scheduled at another Kaiser building.
9:20: Once I got out of the first appointment, I had 10 minutes left to get downtown to my next appointment.
9:46: I was pretty proud of myself for being only 16 minutes late, but I was (the dreaded) late, so I knew the appointment was iffy. I asked the desk clerk if this was okay, because I was (the dreaded) late, so will I need to reschedule? She actually called the nurse’s station, who assured her I could be seen. I paid the fee and cussed myself for a forgotten magazine for the 2nd time that morning.
10:18: The clerk walked over and proceeded to tell me that, because I was (the dreaded) late, the doctor was going to do all of his regularly scheduled appointments, but he could see me in about an hour. (Notice I’d already been waiting now for ½ hour, using my patience.)
I said, no, I do not have the luxury of time and we’ll need to reschedule. Can you refund the fee or apply it to an upcoming visit? The nurse said, oh no! I said that I was only late because an appointment at your other facility ran late and you’re trying to punish me, even after I checked to make sure that being late wasn’t an issue?!!!!!
The clerk became the sweetest person I’ve ever met, apologized profusely, took many minutes to figure out how to refund the co-pay, and checked the nurse’s station three times to see if someone could reschedule me. Even escorted me to the nurse’s station and went to find her in a back office.
10:50: I left. One hour and 4 minutes of waiting having gotten no further than the waiting room.
These examples are fairly uncommon, I admit; but when they happen, I want to send an invoice from Jessica Taul Incorporated, and bill the doctor for wasting my time. Like notices we see posted behind the check-in counters for cancellations less than 24 hours in advance, or no shows, my sign would say ‘excessive waiting may generate a fee of $40’ or something like that.
Doctors need us just as much as we need them. Without patients, a doctor has no business, no income. So, don’t treat ME like you’re doing me a favor! Don’t treat me like I OWE you! Hell hath no fury like a Jessica wronged!
Next time the nurse calls my name to go into the inner sanctum; next time the nurse says, “the doctor will see you now,” maybe I should say, “No! I will see the doctor now.”