Turning the Tables: When Provider Becomes Patient

I recently visited a medical clinic in a position different than that of my usual role- I went as a patient. I’ll spare you the medical details. What I will tell you about is the seriously lacking state of clinical care I witnessed. I rarely see the world of medicine outside of the hospital where I work, but I have to say having the tables turned was an eye opening experience.

I walked into the clinic and signed in on the clipboard at the front desk. Aware of the packed schedule many clinics operate under, I had secured one of the first appointments of the day-8:25am. Regardless, I proceeded to wait past my given appointment time to simply hand over my insurance card. I noticed on the the sign in sheet that the appointment slot before mine was slated for 8:15am (it also had the patient’s name written on it-HIPAA violation, anyone?). 10 minute appointment intervals is never a good sign. 

I proceeded to wait in the waiting room until 9 am, 35 minutes after my scheduled appointment time. I had brought my laptop in anticipation of a wait. But, my effort to use my time productively was a flop. The clinic didn’t have internet access available to the public.

When I was finally called back to the exam room, I noticed an Architectural Digest magazine next to the chair. Finally! A positive development. I can appreciate quality magazine selection. As I flipped through photos of ridiculously expensive oceanfront homes, I waited…and waited…and waited for the physician to appear. When she did, there was no greeting, she just plopped down on her stool and began quickly and dismissively addressing my questions. I appreciate efficiency, but a little warmth or acknowledgement of me as a person would have been nice.

I left the clinic prescription in hand which was my main objective of the visit. But, I couldn’t help thinking that there has to be a better way to interact with people. And, that my experience was not unique but all too common in clinics and hospitals across the country. Being medical providers doesn’t make us ‘better than thou’. It is possible to earn an income without such a ruthless efficiency. I know, I do it all the time.

Admittedly, use of basic manners can be difficult operating under a strapped schedule but they are essential if we hope to actually help our patients. It’s called customer service. Somehow similarly pressured industries manage to apply it’s principles.

Working in the emergency department, things that might alarm others have become my routine. A laceration requiring sutures doesn’t look so bad to me if there’s no bone or tendon exposed and a little wheezing with bronchitis is the norm so long as one’s O2 sats are OK. But, it is crucial to remember that for most people these things are new and frightening experiences. 

My visit was a wake up call to remember our patients are a. people and b. operating without a medical background. It’s easy to go about my day seeing my patients as a diagnosis, a stereotype, or a billing code. But, a more well-rounded perspective is in order. If we don’t take the time to explain diagnoses, procedures, and prescriptions to patients in a way they can understand, the efforts we do make are rendered useless.

To be continued…


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