Why Must Sick People Be Put On Hold?

(This essay originally appeared in The Beach Reporter in 1991.  Still relevant today…)

Fact: I have never called a doctor’s office and not been put on hold.
Fact: I have never gone to a doctor and not waited at least twenty minutes, and often much longer, for an appointment that I was on time for.
Fact: I have rarely been treated all that courteously by the people who work at the front desks or answer the phones at doctor’s offices. In fact, they usually act put out that I had the nerve to get sick and demand an appointment that very day.
Fact: I have had a doctor take a call from a contractor working on his house while rotely feeling the glands on my neck. I barely got to tell him what was wrong with me because he was so aggravated over how his construction was going.
Fact: All doctors must have gotten together at the last medical convention and decided they would play the same bad music when patients are on hold.
Before I go any further, I have to make a disclaimer. I have rarely had these problems with the pediatrician or any other doctors my children see. Maybe because they deal with children they are more caring and flexible and punctual.

However, as an adult, I often wonder why I put up with the disregard I have received from most of the medical profession. Mind you, I am not talking about negligence of a life-threatening nature. Rather, I am referring to treatment as a patient with the usual sore throats, flu, etc.
This is an example of a typical conversation I might have with the appointment lady at my previous medical group.

Me: (after listening to bad music on hold for ten minutes) “Yes, I’d like to know if the doctor has any appointments available today.”
Appointment Lady: “Today!!?? An appointment today!!?? The earliest the doctor could see you is the day after tomorrow, and that would be a walk-in appointment.”
Me: “But I’m sick today.”
AL: (suspiciously) “Well, what’s wrong with you?”
Me: “I have a bad sore throat and I ache all over and I have a splitting headache.”
AL: “Could you hold, please?” (Five minutes later) “I guess we’ll have to squeeze you in. But be prepared for a long wait.” (sigh)

Rather than just criticize, I’d like to offer some constructive suggestions. Is there any reason a doctor’s office can’t have more than one phone person, so you don’t always have to be put on hold? No matter what time of day I call, there are always “three lines holding.” Maybe if there were more office staff to handle the obvious stress of dealing with all of us aggravating sick people, the office staff could be more attentive rather than annoyed.

I am not a problem patient, nor am I a hypochondriac. I am always polite to the office staff, I am always on time, and I am properly cowed in the presence of the Great One (the doctor).

When you are ill, it’s the one time in your life you’d like a little sympathy. Not a whiny voice saying, “I can squeeze you in but you’ll have to wait.”

Well, I don’t want to be squeezed in. I don’t want to wait. If I made people wait forty minutes to see me, I’d be out of a job quickly. It’s not just general practitioners either. I have had the same experience with dermatologists and gynecologists.

The worst part is when the nurse finally calls you, and you get into the exam room. You think you are finally home free. But you soon realize that the waiting room was just a holding pattern, and now you have the real wait. Only now you get to wait dressed in a thin paper bib.

I just thank God I can afford this supposedly decent medical care. I can only imagine what it’s like not to speak English, or have any money, or be able to get off work to go to the doctor.
Many people I know just go to Urgent Care centers in their neighborhoods. It’s more expensive, but you don’t need an appointment. You can usually just walk right in.

Maybe when doctors switched over from being just doctors and became corporations they lost some of their humanity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s