Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Patients Without Patience: My Health Care Reform

"I believe everyone should have quality, affordable health care in America," is a statement presidential candidates are making. I agree, but nobody’s addressing my big concern. With all of us affording to see doctors, how much longer will we be kept waiting? I once sat there so long, the paper gown turned yellow!

Yesterday, after thirty minutes in the filled-to-capacity waiting room at a radiology lab, I approached the receptionist to ask, “Did they check if you have skills for managing crowd control?”

She didn't laugh. She didn't look at me. “We’re running a bit late,” she said, her tone scolding as if to suggest I was a fool to take my appointment time seriously.

Twenty minutes and two chapters of my book later, I returned to say, “A bit is ten, twelve minutes”.

“There are just two people ahead of you,” was her response, again avoiding eye contact. What did this mean? Would they be having a brief consultation...or surgery?

This was my second experience of the week (and it was only Tuesday) of waiting far too long for a doctor. “”Let the doctor know I’ve waited almost an hour,” I said. “I have the same number of hours each day she does. If she’s willing to take me now, fine. And in consideration of the time I’ve wasted, there should be no charge. Otherwise, I’m leaving the practice.”

She looked at me. A victory! I was no longer a shtummy, not yet a term included when they take your medical history, yet an apt description of the others sitting passively in the waiting room. A few short minutes later, I moved to the head of the line and was getting a free sonogram.

I’m not unreasonable. I make allowances for a doctor who’s had an emergency as well as those who are genuinely distressed at being unavoidably late. The latter category actually involves just one doctor, who'd come into the waiting room to apologize and tell me that in deference to my long wait, there would be no bill.

While the candidates are formulating health plans, I'm proposing that we, the patients, create an unofficial network and lay out our conditions, which we submit to the politicians. If waiting time is included in patients' rights, doctors will be forced to reconsider their scheduling practices. We will be the founding members of the not yet established group, Patients Without Patience. We'll have a place in history, not unlike the signers of the Bill of Rights. If anyone knows how to create a website for Patients Without Patience, please do so and make it interactive so readers can make note of the time spent in their doctors' waiting rooms.

The formula I’m proposing (and you can write to me, or ir may be more productive to write to the candidates) with your suggestions, which might be something like:

We arrive on time (necessary if we’re to feel entitled to make demands) with any records we’ve been asked to bring and fasting if we’re having a cholesterol test or colonoscopy

After 10 minutes of waiting – a polite question to the desk

After 20 minutes – we give notice that we’re leaving if not taken within 10 minutes

At the 30 minute mark, the ultimatum: a free appointment or we’re leaving. If we're really cranky, those who've been fasting call to have a pizza delivered to the office and those who are sick call the paramedics, which should embarrass the doctor.

If colleges suggest the appropriate time for a student to wait to meet with a full professor is twenty minutes, this seems more than fair.

2 comments:

Marilyn said...

syb, i'm thinking 20 minutes a polite question, (remember lots of
folks won't be paying much) 30 minutes a reminder
that you'll leave at 45-- then you walk. somehow
i don't think hillary has you or me in mind with
her national health care proposal. but i wouldn't
be surprised if we, (the collective we) suffered to
some degree. the enticement to overbook will be
greater than ever as volume will be the only way
to justify seeing more patients at a reduced rate.
just the same, i'm all for helping those who don't
have insurance. but we'll all partake of similar, not
so i-yi-yi medical care. will it be worse, in some
absolutely. xo marilyn

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