Apr 142009
The ten faces of the Doctor.
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Appointments… a simple concept: you arrange a time and place to meet, both parties turn up as arranged, you do whatever business needs to get done and you both go on your merry way again. Easy, efficient and practical.

Easy, efficient and practical, that is, as long as it’s not remotely connected with the medical profession. The merest whiff of anything medical and the notion of fixed appointments morphs into something extraordinarily convoluted and apparently unmanageable. Why?

I’m writing this sitting in a doctors waiting room. My appointment was at 12:00pm, I arrived at 11:50am, it’s now 12:15pm and I’m still sitting here, surrounded by sick people, breathing in a noxious cocktail of contagious pathogens.

I have a business appointment at a hotel down the road at 12:30. I figured that half-an hour would be plenty of time to check out a lingering pulled shoulder muscle with the doctor. How wrong can you be? In business, if I make an appointment for 12:00 I’d better be ready to meet that person at 12:00, otherwise I can kiss their business goodbye. But somehow that logic manages to evade the medical mindset. Rather than a discrete and accurate sliver of time, appointments in the medical sense tend to be more of a fuzzy guideline indicating that you’ll probably get to see a doctor sometime that day. They’re designed, from what I can see, to keep self-important medical receptionists of questionable competence in work. The reality is that regardless of your appointment time you’ll be seen on a first-come-first-served basis, and frankly that’s simply not good enough.

I understand that doctors need to spend varying amounts of time with each patient, and that these consultations aren’t an exact science. But the same thing can be said for countless professions and businesses that span the gamut of industrial sectors, and somehow, somewhere along the line, the appointment-making — and more importantly, the appointment-keeping — has evolved to accommodate these vagaries. Appointments work elsewhere… so why can’t they work at the doctors’ surgery or the hospital?

This isn’t all doctors’ fault, of course: they’re too busy doing the doctoring to worry about the administrative niceties of appointments. It’s the administrators who should really be taken to task for the gross inefficiencies that cripple the medical system in this country. Its a monumental waste of everybody’s valuable time. It means doctors aren’t treating as many patients, patients aren’t getting the service that they deserve, and, when it comes to public hospitals, the tax-payer isn’t getting value for their tax Euro. All-in-all it’s a shambles.

It’s now 12:20, and there’s no sign of seeing the doctor yet — which means that I have to leave, because I have an appointment to keep, and anything less would be unprofessional. I can’t help wondering why keeping an appointment is more important to me than it is to my doctor. There’s something seriously wrong with this picture!

I’m back at the doctors’ surgery again. It’s now 2.50pm — and I’m bang on time for my rescheduled appointment. Am I being called in? Of course not! Apparently the doctor (a different one this time) isn’t back from lunch yet. So I’m waiting again, in a slightly less crowded waiting room. Hopefully this time I’ll get to actually see a doctor, but I can’t help thanking my lucky stars that there’s nothing seriously wrong with me.

This fiasco has disrupted my entire working day, and what I find particularly galling is the unvoiced assumption by staff at the surgery that a doctors time, for some unfathomable reason, is more valuable than mine. How? Why?

The sooner doctors’ surgeries, hospitals and other medical establishments start honouring the appointments that they make — start valuing their patients’ (who are, let’s face it, their customers) time as much as their own — the better it will be for everyone, doctors included. It’s time the medical world got with the programme, and started to take something as basic as appointment times more seriously.

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  One Response to “Keeping appointments: why is it so hard?”

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