I just read a really good article from The Huffington Post that was written by a young woman from the UK. She was discussing the issue of waiting for a doctor. She herself had been waiting for her doctor when she noticed another patient who was being very loud and quite verbal about waiting. He engaged her in conversation and said, “I bet that doctor is back there having a cup of tea”. He must have been stunned when she replied, “well, I certainly hope so”. She knew that the doctors had recently seen her as an emergency when she began bleeding during her pregnancy. She knew that they had dropped everything to attend to her and her unborn baby and for that she was eternally grateful.
I also “hate to wait” when I am seeing my own doctor, but I do know that he or she is not “back there eating bon-bons". I also know that many patients have waited for me, sometimes for up to an hour. I promise you that I know that I am running late and it makes me very anxious. But at the same time, I am doing the best that I can to treat each and every patient as if they were my own child or family member. Sometimes a patient comes in with a more complicated or urgent problem and the time taken with that patient is much longer than was expected. Or, a child arrives wheezing and in respiratory distress without even having an appointment….they to will be “worked on” in front of everyone else…as they need a doctor immediately.
The article continued to re-count how many times during her pregnancy that she had needed to be seen as she continued to have issues with bleeding, and each and every time, the doctors were there, no wait and no questions….they just did their job.
It is difficult to explain why doctors run late and I understand how patients are frustrated when they wait. But at the same time, how do you schedule the appropriate amount of time for a patient who calls for an appointment because their child is sick with a fever and a sore throat. But, while you are seeing their child they break down in your exam room and tell you that they have found out that their husband is “cheating on them” and that “he wants a divorce”. As their pediatrician, do you tell them that you don’t “have the time” to listen to their problems. Do you just deal with their child’s sore throat and ignore the mother’s anguish. In my case, I choose to spend time with the mother, to empathize with her, and hope to help her. I know that this reaction will make me late….but it is what I need and want to do for my patients and families.
Whenever I am talking to prospective patients I am perfectly honest when they ask me, “will I ever have to wait?”. My response has changed over the years as I have come to realize that there will be times when they do wait….but it is not because I ever want to “run late” or make my patients wait. It is because, I have decided that my practice has just as many flaws as my parenting, not perfect. But similar to my children, at times one will need me more than another, and when they do I will spend more time with the one that needs me the most. It may not seem “fair”, but how do you make it always be “fair”? I hope that at the end of the 23-25 years I spend with these families they come to realize…it all evens out in the end…there are times that I spent too much time with them and then there are times that they waited. But, just like parenting, you do the best that you can. I will continue to practice that way as well. I promise, if you are waiting I am not having tea and bon-bons!!!