Once upon a time a man named John was reminded by his wife to schedule a doctor’s visit. Just like that he made an appointment with his new doctor. On the way to the clinic he tried to call and confirm but could not reach the front desk. He was also transferred to voicemail when he tried a second time. Upon arrival the waiting room had patients waiting patiently. The staff seemed busy and John understood now why his phone calls were not answered. Checking in and writing his name was very fast and before he could blink he was politely asked to have a seat. So John read a magazine or three. 20 or so minutes later John began to get frustrated. He sat and watched multiple people get brought to the “other side of the door.” Waiting for the nurse to call out his name was like waiting to win the lottery, it just never seemed to happen. “That person arrived after me and they are already called to the other side of the door” John thought. “im just being paranoid” he concluded.
Then finally, 39 minutes later his name was called. He felt angry for waiting but was also happy to finally see the other side of the door. At this point John perceived the staff as being insensitive and unapologetic about the fact that he had been waiting for so long. “Im probably just overreacting” he thought to himself. Vitals signs were taken very quickly (although the scale felt like it took forever). Finally John now makes it into the exam room. He wondered “Do I sit on the chair? The exam table?” Then he waited again. He realized that the exam room was just an extension of the waiting room. After 10 minutes or so John peeked out and was told that the doctor will see him soon. “Oh ok great, thank you” he replied as if he was just told some profound information. “I shouldn’t be so impatient” John thinks to himself. On the positive side, 20 minutes in the exam room allowed John to wonder “what is actually in those cabinets anyway?” Then it happened, Dr. Doe has entered the room.
At home John had a ton of important questions for Dr. Doe. Why do they call it a “funny bone?” and “Is cholesterol all a conspiracy?” were at the top of his list. Then John suddenly forgot why he came for the appointment in the first place. Dr. Doe politely apologized for the long wait and John instantly felt about 4 % better. He wondered if the doctor is to blame for making him wait. The doctors badge read an impressive title from a local University. John felt comfort knowing his doctor is intelligent and knowledgeable. Dr. Doe even confirmed from records that John was allergic to penicillin at birth. The doctor typed away on his fancy electronic medical record tablet, rarely looking up at John. No hand shake. No personality. No feeling of warmth or care. John found himself feeling disappointed in his doctors personality. “Am I trying to date the guy or have him be my doctor?” John asked himself as he moved along with his appointment. Dr Doe quickly examined John . Then just like that John had no questions and the doctor exited the door after 8 minutes. John left feeling dissatisfied in ways he couldn’t describe.
The above story is not about a specific clinic or clinician. Still I am confident that most readers can in some way relate to the above story. Think about this: In a 2013 study by Vanguard Communications, 3617 online reviews of physicians were analyzed. It was found that 43.1% of reviews included complaints about poor bedside manner. 35.3% of the reviews included complaints about poor customer service. Most patients are not worried about their doctor’s intelligence or knowledge. It is the interpersonal skills that frustrate patients. This data coincides with research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (Lopez et al, 2012). This particular research showed that patients were more than twice as likely to describe how empathetic a physician was rather than how knowledgeable. For better or worse patients judge experiences with their clinicians in the same way they judge other service industries. Many of us use the same criteria for critiquing our doctors as we would a restaurant, bank, or any other retail establishment.
So are we wrong? Is John wrong? Is it unreasonable to prefer that your doctor’s visit feel like a visit to the mall rather than a trip to the DMV? Many patients are surprised when they see their doctor at the exact scheduled and agreed upon time. Some medical establishments are inclined to double book their timeslots to help create more volume of patients which in turn can be more financially beneficial. These kinds of business decisions should prompt us to remember that we are all patients. I am a patient. And because of this we can all see how frustrating long waits can be and how it can create a non-therapeutic atmosphere. I believe a large part of being a good doctor is actually just being a patient. Most of us expect and desire the same thing from our doctor visits. Good bedside manner, a sense that people care, and good customer service. Nobody wants a clinician with poor listening skills that interacts with arrogance and indifference.
When I started Mindful Medicine I made a promise to myself. I vowed to always remember what it is like to be a patient. Being accessible to my patients is important. Minimizing wait times is important. Listening, understanding and making a human connection are an immensely important part of patient care. I vowed this would be the cornerstone of the type of treatment I provide. Even if it means this would happen in exchange for financial gains. Double booking will never occur. Spacing out visits to reduce wait time and give patients more time with the doctor will occur. No one should ever have to leave the doctor’s office feeling the way John did in the above story. I believe this can be achieved. Do you?