Complaint Box | The Doctor Won’t See You

Complaint Box
Got a Gripe?

Get a grip. Send your rant — no more than 500 words, please — to: [email protected], with a subject line of your last name, followed by “Complaint Box” and the topic. Detailed instructions are below.

At an age when most of our mornings start with the question “What ‘ist’ (as in internist, allergist, cardiologist) are we going to today?” my wife and I are convinced that all medical students should have to pass Overbooking 101 before they can become doctors.

Again and again, we arrive at a doctor’s aptly named waiting room on or before the scheduled time, only to learn that three or four others sitting there have been given the same appointment.

Staff members never acknowledge the overbooking. Rather, when pressed for an explanation, the rationale is usually “Doctor had an emergency.” Hearing that, even the most irritable among us would be disinclined to object. But how often, if ever, has the office delay been the result of a real emergency rather than that old devil overbooking?

Occasionally, the excuse given is that the doctor likes to give each patient all the time necessary. Fair enough; but then why not schedule the next patient for half an hour later?

Sometimes the staff attempts to mitigate the long delay by ushering the already long-suffering patient into a treatment room, giving the false impression that the exam is only moments away. But that almost always turns out to be a ruse.

On a visit to a sports medicine specialist to treat my chronic pain (the result, sad to say, of reaching for a can of vegetables on a high shelf), I entered a waiting room filled with people doing crossword puzzles and reading magazines, cover to cover. After an hour I was escorted into a holding area — excuse me, treatment room — where, for another 30 to 40 minutes, I stared at models of spines, vertebrae and muscles before the doctor entered.

I waited, as most of us do, because I couldn’t face going through the whole routine a second time. But a friend of mine has walked out of more than one waiting room, and in the process probably missed out on essential medical advice and treatment. Admittedly, he has the patience of a mosquito, but he’s far from alone in his desire to bolt.

Unlike dentists, whom I’ve found to be fairly precise about adhering to set appointment times, doctors seem to share an insecurity about possible last-minute cancellations, hence the overcompensating; some even charge for a missed appointment. On the other side, I’ve heard of some nervy, disgruntled patients suing doctors for time-equals-money delays in the waiting room.

The suits weren’t successful, and probably shouldn’t have been. But I would definitely support a medical school course in Considerate Dealing With Lay People, who, after all, have lives beyond the doctor’s office, and for whom time is also precious, even if it’s spent waiting for the next “ist.”

Joel H. Cohen is a freelance writer who lives in the Bay Terrace section of Staten Island.

If you wish to submit a Complaint Box essay, please send it as an attachment and in the body of the e-mail to [email protected], along with your name, address, phone number and e-mail. In the subject line of the e-mail, type your last name, followed by “Complaint Box” and the subject of your complaint. Essays can be anywhere between 100 and 500 words. Because we receive so many submissions, we can only get back to those whose complaints are being considered for publication. If you do not hear from us, thank you anyway, and feel free to submit it elsewhere.

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