Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The doctor as ringmaster

I'm a fairly healthy guy; I ride a bike, I try to eat remotely healthily and not do stuff that would mess with my insides.

But despite that, I still have to go to the doctor every now and then, as much as I hate doing so.

I hate it even moreso when I'm only feeling a little ill, but sufficiently ill that I know I must see a doctor to get it fixed. Like this time. My asthma has started to act up after almost a year of not bothering me, and my inhaler was out of juice. It wasn't bothering me very much, but if I did get an asthma attack, I would need a working inhaler.

I've had asthma for over twenty years, and it was a lot worse back in the day than it is now. I am used to getting a refill from the pharmacy, and seeing the doctor when my prescription ran out. This particular inhaler I had gotten over two years ago, and it was the last of three refills. So you can imagine how long ago I had last seen my doctor for my asthma.

In fact, "my doctor" had left the practise a year or so ago, and while I had sent in paperwork to get transferred to one of the other ones in the practise, I had never actually seen this new doctor.

Nor would I see her this time.

When I called to try to get an appointment, I was told the next available spot was two weeks away--not a wait I'd like to make. My alternative was to come in for the 'urgent care' walk-in, which usually means an indeterminate amount of sitting in a waiting room to see the doctor of the day. My work schedule didn't really have time for that, either. The person on the phone suggested I come in as early as possible to avoid a long wait--ironic advice, given that fatigue is another one of my complaints, and early mornings do not help with this.

Fast forward to this morning, and I managed to up early enough to head over there and expect a tolerable wait.

During the visit, I remembered that waiting was not the thing I disliked most about visiting the doctor. It's the complete and utter lack of privacy.

Let me walk you through the standard trip, which I witnessed as many other patients came in during my wait:

[Patient walks up to receptionist]

PATIENT: Hi, I need to see someone about my [details of ailment] (Alternately, "I have an appointment with Doctor so-and-so at ten-thirty for my [ailment]")

RECEPTIONIST: Do you have your health card?

[Patient hands health card to receptionist. The receptionist types some information into the computer.]

REC: Are you still at [Full address], and is your phone number still [Phone number]?

PAT: Yes.

REC: Okay, please have a seat.

[The following epilogue was also common:]

PAT: How long is the wait?

REC: Well, it takes about 13 minutes per patient, and there are [number usually between 8 and 12] patients ahead of you.

[Patient sits down]
So already at this point, everybody else in the waiting room, having exhausted the supply of medical pamphlets to occupy their attention during the wait, have heard your address and phone number, your doctor, and whatever's ailing you. You feel like an animal in a circus.

Then comes the coup de grace. The nurse pokes out from behind the door, and proceeds to call your full name into the crowd, making sure that everyone heard it clearly, in case it was theirs--even though you yelped "yes" at the sound of your first name.

As someone who cherishes his anonymity while in public, I always hate this part of the visit. Here people have been staring at you in the waiting room for as much as an hour or more, they've heard you describe your ailment to the receptionist, and finally they can name you.

But you'll live with it. At least you're out of the waiting room--a bit early, too, it seems--and you won't have to meet them except perhaps a cursory glance as you leave the clinic after you're done with the doctor.

...and you are skirted into the triage room. The nurse takes you in to take some details from you, then releases you back into the waiting room to the audience of people who now have enough information about you to start writing your biography. Getting called in half an hour was indeed too good to be true.

After another wait the nurse comes back and calls you out (pun intended if paranoia is one of your ailments) and you can finally see the doctor, hoping as you walk through the waiting room that everybody keeps their eyes and ears to themselves out of mutual fear for their own privacy.

Now don't get me wrong. I appreciate very much the fact that I have access to a doctor, and that there are a lot of places in the world where people can wait whole days and still not get the chance to see one.

But we live in a society that is highly protective of people and their privacy, and we have stringent privacy laws, too. Our society is also protective of younger women, who can make up a significant portion of doctor visits in practises that aren't inundated in geriatric patients. We're overprotective of them on the pathways and on the streets; so why doesn't anybody get the idea to not read out their name, address and phone number in a crowded room of people?

When my name was called, another patient, an older gentleman in a suit (whose dress was that of a fairly important businessman or politician) seemed interested and looked at me as I took the walk of shame to the back rooms.

Turns out, I recognized his name, too, when it was called. And my inkling was right; over 400,000 hits on Google confirms that he is a fairly important businessman or politician.

For the sake of his privacy and mine, I wouldn't think of tracking him down, but I really wonder if he shares my privacy concerns.

At least I can take consolation in the fact that, important as he is, he's stuck with the same wait that I am.

- RG>

No comments: