16 March 2011


I posted a status on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that caused a pretty serious reaction.  I complained about how unaccommodating doctors, and most particularly their receptionists, were.  I'd forgotten how many doctors I count among my friends and family.  And I managed to offend many of them.  They told me that they worked hard, almost never saw their families, and always gave their patients top-notch care.  I deleted the exchange from my Facebook page as soon as I got home from work, but the scars remain.  I am developing a real anti-doctor sentiment here, and it is soon going to require treatment.

Let me back up and explain a little.

When I returned to work after my ski vacation, with my right arm in a sling, I was under strict orders from the doctor at the ski resort to keep my fractured right shoulder immobile.  I was also instructed to contact "my" orthopedist as soon as I got home for follow-up care.  ("My" orthopedist?  I don't own an orthopedist.  But okay, whatever.  I would get referrals; I would find out who was best in the area.)

The inquiry went out.  Names were collected.  The calling of the doctors commenced at 9:00 Monday morning from my desk at work.

I called five doctors close to my home and asked whether any of them could see me early in the morning (before work), in the evening (after work), or on a weekend.  None of them could.  I was told that there were no evening or weekend hours and that I would have to be flexible.  (I would have to be flexible?)  One receptionist told me that, if I really were as injured as I said I was, I would surely be able to get time off from work to deal with it.

I ended up making a 4:30 pm appointment on Wednesday with a doctor who came very highly recommended.  I explained to my boss that I would need to leave work early to get to the appointment.  My boss, for all his faults, is a very nice guy, and sympathetic to my injury, and he agreed without hesitation that this was something that took priority over whatever else we were doing.

At 3:30 on the afternoon of the appointment, I dashed out of the office and took the subway up to the George Washington Bridge, where my nanny picked me up (I can't drive yet) and whisked me off to the doctor's office.  I made it just in time.  I went in and gave the receptionist my insurance card, my x-rays, and the medical history paperwork that I had prepared in advance.  I was instructed to have a seat; the doctor would be right with me.

I sat for an hour in the waiting room, and then another half hour in the exam room.  The doctor came in, heard my story, and looked at my arm.  He re-x-rayed my shoulder and noted some improvement.  He instructed me to continue to keep it still and to make a follow-up appointment in two weeks.

On my way out, I asked the receptionist whether I could schedule my follow-up appointment.  "No," she said.  "We're completely booked.  We'll have to call you and let you know when you can come in."

Maybe these guys are really popular because they're so great.

Yesterday, the receptionist called and wanted to know whether I could be there at 9:00 this morning.  "No, I work during the day," I said.  I also had an important meeting to attend this morning.  "Do you have anything late in the afternoon?  Or on Thursday?"  I thought maybe I could talk my boss into more time off, if I had a little advance warning.

"That's the only appointment we can offer you," she said.  "Thursday is completely double-booked, and then the doctor is leaving for a three-week vacation on Friday.  So it's tomorrow at 9, or you'll have to wait until mid-April."

"Maybe there's another doctor in the practice who could see me?"

"No.  But I'll call you if we have a cancellation."

I thanked her and hung up.  And got back to work.

Late yesterday afternoon, I was able to secure an appointment with the doctor who performed my dad's Tommy John surgery.  (My dad is not a major league pitcher.  He swims, however, which, over time, can have similar effects on your shoulder.)  Dad's Doctor is pretty far from my home, but he's willing to see me at 7 pm, and that made all the difference for me.  Just before hanging up, his receptionist warned me that Dad's Doctor does not accept insurance.  Because of the flexible hours he keeps, he is in high demand, so people are willing to pay whatever they need to pay to see him.  I expressed concern.  "Can we talk about what this is going to cost?"

"The doctor will discuss your circumstances at the time of your visit and will work with you on the issue of payment," she said.

I conjured a mental picture of myself sitting on an examining table in a sling, trying to negotiate a fair price for the removal of said sling.  It wasn't a very pleasant image, but I felt like I was stuck.  I really do need my arm back at some point soon.

My husband and I are both lawyers.  We both take calls and e-mails from clients at all hours.  My husband, whose practice focuses on criminal defense, routinely meets with clients and potential clients early in the morning or late in the evening - whatever their schedules require.  He has been known to answer calls in the middle of the night and rush off to the police station or to court, only to return in time for breakfast.  People get arrested when they get arrested, and they need help then and there.  It's part of the job.

Now, I do not mean to condemn all doctors.  I know many personally, and they are generally a pretty selfless, hardworking bunch.  They are also witty and fun to hang out with.  But just trying to get an appointment with one of them outside of my working hours - which, by the way, are pretty cushy for a New York City lawyer - has been unbelievably difficult.  I understand that office hours are only a small slice of an orthopedist's life.  Surgery and hospital rounds also take up big chunks of the day.  But does it have to be that difficult, in this day and age, to get simple medical care?  This is not a life-threatening injury.  I understood from the doctor who treated me at the scene, though, that it's pretty common.  And I can tell you that it's painful, too.

Everyone needs time off.  If I were a doctor - or any professional who sees people on an appointment basis - I would work at least one weekend day, or a weeknight evening or two, and then take my time off in the middle of the week.  What are your thoughts?  Doctors?  Lawyers?  Patients and clients?


Lisa said...

I agree with you. I have worked in the Medical field over 10 yrs now.( Insurance Coordinator, Nurse (LPN) and Medical Billing. I know where you are coming from. Its the staff that think they run the office most of the time. I recently walked out of a good medical billing position because of the Receptionist upfront and her best friend the Medical Assistant. This doctor thought they did no, wrong. If she only knew they cheated on their time, stole, and treated the patients like "dirt". I put up with the Physician cursing me for over a year, the always falsely acusing me. I finally said if she is stupid enough to not see what they are doing, and running her patients off then let her find out. I tried to tell her, but she would have no part of it. Its the staff, I can just about say most Phsyiscians don't know what goes on when they aren't around.

Good luck.. hope you find a great specialist that can help your shoulder.

ami said...

Every year I go see an ophthalmologist whom I really like. Every year I wait close to an hour to see him - almost without regard to whether I am early, on time or late. Heaven help me if I am 5 minutes late (before my 1 hour wait) - if that happens I get quite a lecture from the office staff. Husband Bobby finally said Enough and switched docs - and every year I am tempted. But I like the guy so every year I put off switching. I suspect I'll eventually get tired of the treatment.

Same story - perhaps worse at the OB/gyn's office, but at least she has an excuse I can understand.

nalyn said...

I hear you and feel your pain on multiple levels. As a chiropractor and as a patient for my own visits to doctors over the years, i've been amazed at how complacent people are -- just waiting for hours to be seen, and no one thinks to comment about the value of their time! I have left practices where there is a chronic, repetitive late arrival of the doc or obvious overbooking. How can I be seen as the first patient of the morning, only to find out 45 minutes later that the Dr. is not in the building yet? I can't be 45 minutes late for my own patient visit appts...
You are right to be frustrated with your inability to receive timely care. Evening hours and family practices usually go together. Perhaps you can find a pediatric orthopod that would see you, knowing at some point that one of your 3 darlings may need their services? Just a thought..
Love you, love your blog. happy day, happy hunting...

DS said...

I hate this, too! I understand that doctors need to maximize their capacity, so I don’t mind waiting a bit. And I get it that sometimes doctors need to squeeze in extra patients without appointments who have urgent issues. But I think if a doctor routinely makes patients wait more than 15 or 20 minutes, he/she is overbooking to a degree that is nothing short of unprofessional and unethical.

And I’ve never understood why doctors don’t have weekend or evening hours. Why not work Tuesday through Saturday? Or stay until 8pm on Thursdays and then open late on Fridays? If they wanted to keep “bankers’ hours,” they should have become bankers!