AN intemperate reader contribution in the Sydney Morning Herald got me thinking about all the hours I’ve spent flicking through ancient magazines (or, more likely, trying to get some work done) in various doctors’ waiting rooms.
It used to be accepted that waiting till well past your appointment time was an inevitable part of seeking medical attention, but today’s vocal consumers seem less willing to toe the line.
Under the heading “GPs can be a right pain”, patient Nicola Sheppard vented her ire at being made to wait for up to one-and-a-half hours each time she went to the doctor.
“I have never suffered from high blood pressure … except in doctors’ waiting rooms,” she wrote. “I discovered what the expression ‘blood boiling’ really meant the day I got wise and booked a doctor’s first appointment of the day ― still to wait over 40 minutes.”
Of course, most patients understand that medicine is an unpredictable business and doctors will never be able to guarantee 100% punctuality.
Emergencies happen, presenting conditions are more complex than anticipated, and we all want our doctor to take the time to be thorough.
But I’m not sure those explanations work if a doctor always runs well behind time.
The not-so-patient occupant of the waiting room might find themselves wondering if this practitioner needs to schedule longer appointments or perhaps take a firmer hand with the patients who expect to deal with half a dozen issues in one short consult.
“The patients don’t mind waiting,” a receptionist once said to me. “They know she’s always late because she’s such a good doctor.”
I didn’t say anything at the time (and the doctor was indeed good), but the truth is I did mind waiting every single time I went to see her.
I suppose I could have turned up half an hour late myself, knowing that I always had to wait at least that long, but somehow I could never quite bring myself to do it.
The thing is running late is not just an inconvenience for patients: it has potential health consequences.
I have often put off seeking medical attention because I just don’t have the time, and an Australia Institute survey suggests that is a common reaction of working people.
It showed 27% of the 1360 people surveyed said they probably needed to see a doctor, but were too busy, while a whopping 44% said they had not sought medical attention in the past for the same reason.
Running more or less on time might seem like an impossible dream but with the frenzied pace of modern living and employment pressures on many people, even the most devoted doctor won’t be able to help patients who stop coming in because they don’t have time to sit in the waiting room.
Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based science and medicine writer. She has worked for Melbourne’s The Age and contributed to publications including the BMJ, The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. She is also a former news and features editor with Australian Doctor. Her book, Making girls and boys, on the science of sex and gender, will be published by UNSW Press early next year.
Posted 1 November 2010