Hey, Doc.

I don’t “hate” going to the doctor in any really significant sense of the word “hate.” I know lots of medical people, not just doctors but nurses and PAs and nurse practioners and techs of all kinds, and they are generally really great people who really care about helping out and taking care of others. There are exceptions, of course – but there are self-absorbed putzes in any profession, it’s hardly just a “doctor” thing.

But what in the name of all that is sane has happened to health care? I’m not even talking about the insurance mess, or the outrageous fees. Just, the process of making an appointment with a doctor and going in to be seen. For a routine checkup, or a chronic problem, or some new symptom that you are mildly concerned about. When did that become more stressful than shopping in the mall in December?

I have seen two doctors in the past two weeks. One was a dermatologist, who removed a “pre-cancerous lesion” from my face. The other was my new family practitioner, since I can’t be seen at the base hospital any more. Both of them were great. Nice, smart, concerned about my health, willing to explain what they were doing and why, willing to listen to my concerns… they actually gave me the impression that, wonder of wonders, they cared about my health and wanted me to be well. Not just that they cared about my insurance… I mean, seriously, these are so far really GOOD doctors. Which – not all of them I have seen are, necessarily. Not by my standards. I’m sure they were very well educated, but I have seen doctors (one just last year was the WORST) who talk down to their patients, treat us like idiots, interrupt us when we talk, and generally give the impression that they would have been happier as veterinarians or medical examiners, so they didn’t have to talk to their stupid patients. I am grateful that my current medical team does not suffer from that particular disorder.

I sat in the dermatologist’s waiting room for an hour and a half past my appointment time. The family practice doc, waiting room until an hour and fifteen minutes past appointment time, then called in for weight, temp, and blood pressure, and then the nurse said “wait right here, I need to wait just a few minutes for a room” and left me sitting in the hallway for another 45 minutes, then she came back and got me, put me in a room, and took my history – the doctor came in about 2 hours and 35 minutes after my appointment time.

Why is that? Do doctors truly have so very many patients that take longer than they expect that by 2 p.m. they are running 2 hours late? If that is the case, why would they not start “expecting” patients to take longer and book appointments that last 20 minutes instead of 15 – or 45 instead of 30 – before the next patient? Are there not enough doctors in America, so that if the ones we have only saw as many patients as they could book realistic appointments for not everyone would be able to have a doctor? I don’t understand. As a teacher – if I made office hours appointments for 20 minutes, knowing that it takes me at least a half-hour to counsel the “average” student – I would NEVER get done. I would be going home at 10 p.m. every night!

There are other issues, too. Receptionists as a genre have started being rude. Maybe patients are generally rude to them (after sitting in a waiting room for over an hour, that seems likely.) But it seems that my doctors’ and my dentist’s front desk people are *really* annoyed by the fact that patients come up to the counter and want to sign in or something. In fact, even calling them to make an appointment leaves me feeling like I have interfered with their busy lives in some way, inconvenienced them by requiring them to look up when Dr. Whoo is available. Dear stars, I hope I didn’t make them ruin their wet nail polish!

I’m whining, and I’m feeling guilty about it to some extent while I’m doing it. See, I have a doctor, I have insurance, I have a hospital with a half-decent ER less than 15 miles away. If I develop cholera-like symptoms, I will get an IV, antibiotics, whatever I need. Mistakes happen, I know, but in general the health care I receive is about a hundred thousand times better than what 95% of the humans on the planet have access to.

Is that the problem? Is it too good? Has that goodness gone to it’s head and made the whole system arrogant? And what, if anything, can patients do to protect themselves from the dehumanizing rudeness? I mean, it’s not like it’s a class of service that most of us can just boycott. Ideas? Insight? Anyone?

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