Recommended Remedies for Doctors

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gnuff_postNOBODY LIKES TO GO to the doctor. And it’s no accident that we all say, I’m going to the doctor, because it’s the same everywhere. There are exceptions, but they’re easily forgotten in the maze of mediocrity.

How did this happen? Who started the trend of office assistants being surly, nurses seeming matter-of-fact, and doctors acting omniscient? And why do so many imitate these less than ideal models? Don’t they know we aren’t feeling well already? That we need—and are paying a lot of money for—personal attention and care?

Well, that’s probably where the problem starts, because they know we’re not paying for it; that the insurance companies are. Apparently, that’s who they think their real customers are. We are just patients.

The Usual Story


Oh, happy day

Typically, you show up, the noisy glass window slides open, and the first —usually curt—thing you here is, “Insurance card and photo ID.” No “Good morning, how are you feeling today?” or anything at all cordial with a warm, healing tone. Am I the only one who thinks medical office staffers need a graduate program of their own? Because they apparently have to be taught that that first interaction a patient has during the office-visit is crucial. Right away you feel better or worse. Which means that almost everyone feels worse.

But there’s more than that gauntlet to run. You then have to sit in a barren, windowless waiting room with dog-eared, six-month old magazines and TV monitors that are showing only medical marketing programs. (I do wonder if medical offices get paid to have those depressing things in there.) Meanwhile you have to fill out the same information on three or four photo-copied forms.


Into the cave

And it’s often a long wait. Your 10 o’clock appointment really means a call from the nurse about 30 minutes later, followed by a lonely wait in another—this time much smaller but equally windowless and depressing—room where they close the door (why is that?) and leave you to contemplate the walls full of medical charts, cancer-warning posters, and such. Next to you is the ever-inviting exam table, a glove dispenser, and the blood-pressure gauge. Just the thing to get you in the mood. Depending, of course, whether you have to wait another 10 or 60 minutes.


What might be wrong with me?

When the doctor does finally appear, it’s right to business. Not the business of attending to you, but of assessing the medical facts, because—that’s right—lots of ailing monks are waiting in the other little cells down the hall (typically 6 or 8 are scheduled per hour to meet the requirements of their employers, the local hospitals) so they gotta keep the shuffle going. Get ’em in, check their vitals, poke ’em a little, slap a prescription in their hand, and head out—leaving them alone again to ponder their medical fate and collect themselves before making that final walk down the corridor to the friendly “check out” window.

But What If?

Just imagine this scene. You arrive at your doctor’s office where you are welcomed warmly (genuinely) and offered a fresh, first-grade cup of coffee, tea, or juice? Not from a plastic dispenser in a paper cup in the corner of the room, but in a nice cup by a hostess who, after she’s settled you in, quietly takes your insurance card and ID, goes to the administrative area, and checks you in. On the tables are quality up-to-date periodicals, newspapers, and books—something to enrich the brain rather than distract it. The TV screen offers selections of worthwhile documentaries, biographies, and educational programming. You are surrounded by enticing art that does more than fill wall space—it calls for you to look at it with interest and appreciation.


How about a waiting room like this…

The atmosphere conveys no hint of “medical” or “hospital” or “sick.” For all you know you are in the first-class waiting lounge of a private air carrier. And when they say you have a 10:15 appointment, it means that you are up and moving at 10:15. But instead of being called into the public stall to be weighed, measured, and gauged, you are escorted to an exam room by an amicable nurse who does all those things there, privately, comfortably, assuredly.

And—you guessed it—the exam room is actually pleasant to be in. Nice decor. Comfortable arm chairs. No medical charts or pharmaceutical ads. The medical “equipment” is inconspicuous. You can choose from a variety of musical selections on the audio panel, pick up another something worthwhile to read, or browse the internet on your phone or laptop via the office’s free Wi-Fi network.


and an exam room like this?

A few minutes later the doctor comes in. Or, if he’s going to be late, the hostess or nurse returns as often as need be to say so, to apologize for the wait, and to ask if there’s anything else she can get you in the meanwhile. When the doctor does arrive, he actually interacts with you, talks with you, and gets an intuitive feel for your well being without having to ask directly about your symptoms. Meanwhile he’s intent on two main things: reassuring you and showing no indication of needing to just deal with you and get going. He is there for you in every sense, it shows, and you already feel better simply because of that. When he’s done, he rings a quiet buzzer to let the hostess know it’s time to come and escort you out. A pleasant face enters the room and offers to walk you down the hall to another private check-out lounge where you sit while she brings you necessary forms to sign—all of which she goes over with you in plain English.


Scheduling your next visit

If you need to write a check or process a credit card, you do it from the comfort of a chair or desk, not standing at another window looking down at a busy administrative assistant. Same thing for your next appointment: the hostess sits with you and schedules it. And, yes, she’ll be the one that calls you—personally—the day before your next appointment to say how much she’s looking forward to seeing you. (She’s also the one who called you before your first appointment to ask if you would like original, not photo-copied, medical forms (on which you never have to enter anything more than once) mailed to you so you can fill them out before you arrive.) Oh, and if you did have to wait an inordinate amount of time before the doctor saw you, she automatically gives you a legitimate discount proportionate to the time waited. No questions asked.

I don’t know about you, but I think all this is not too much to ask for—we should not even have to ask for it—when each visits costs anywhere from $80 to $300. Yes, I know that the nasty, lurking issue is the insurance companies, but this would still be a heck of a way to improve what we’ve got. And I guarantee you—those hostesses would make the reputation of many a physician’s office. •

(And here’s a telling article quoted from the NY Times.)

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