Now I know why they call us “patients”…

Have you ever walked into a Doctor’s office and immediately been ushered into a treatment room where a Doctor was waiting to attend to your medical problem?

Me neither.

To be honest, I do not expect such treatment. However, over the past few years I have encountered the opposite extreme way too many times for my liking.

A few years ago I was developing a patient appointments system. One of the features that I built into the design was the concept of a steady flow of patients arriving at ten or fifteen-minute intervals, so as to minimize time spent waiting. I did this by setting a limit on how many appointments could be booked with a particular doctor at any given time.

A few days later an irate nurse stormed into my office and demand that I “fix” the system. It appeared that the Doctors were furious at my “improvements” to the system. It turned out that they expected all of the patients to show up at 2 O’Clock. Why? So they could see them all as quickly as possible and then abscond – presumably to an urgent appointment at the golf course. According to the nurse, the Doctors did not like the idea of waiting on patients to arrive.

Well, to quote Steve Martin, “Excuuuuuuuuuuuse Me”.

How terrible that a Doctor should be waiting on a Patient, when everyone knows that it should be the other way round. However, I ended up taking that “feature” out.

Last year I booked an appointment to see a skin specialist – nothing serious, just a a patch of dry skin that I wanted to ensure was not anything more serious. The Doctor was apparently in demand – I had to book an appointment two months in advance.

The great day finally came, and I wended my way to the office, where I was confronted by a waiting room full of people. After signing-in, I turned to the assembled horde and said “Excuse me, but who is here for a 2:30 Appointment with Dr. X?”

Nearly every hand in the room went up. “Thank you”. I then turned to one of the administrative assistants and asked her how many treatment rooms they have.


“Then something is wrong with your appointment scheduling system – the Doctor cannot possibly see so many people at once. I am returning to work. Please let me know when the problem is fixed.”

I never heard from them, and never returned. The skin problem cleared up my itself.

I suspect that most Doctors are reading this thinking “How dare you! Don’t you know my time is valuable?” You’re quite right, it is… but so is mine. Almost all of us have to take time off work or sacrifice income for a trip to the Doctor’s office, so keeping us waiting to make your lives easier is the very height of arrogance.

Much of the blame for this lies with the rest of us – we have elevated the medical community to a position of high importance. Perhaps we have sat and patiently waited because we have assumed that the doctor was running late because of some medical emergency. The medical profession, unsurprisingly, has been happy to go along with this.

Somewhere along the line it seems that the medical profession has forgotten the simple fact that just like a Plumber, a Hairdresser, a Teacher or a Mechanic, a Doctor is providing a service to a customer. The concept of customer service seems anathema to the medical profession, I suspect by design.

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