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"The Doctor Will See You Now—Oh, You're Dead?"

December 2, 2008
by daphne
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This really happened to me.

I was at my physician’s office for my annual—and had already been there for more than an hour and a half, a typical wait time in his office. Next to me was a very old woman accompanied by her caregiver. They were there when I arrived, so she must have been waiting at least two hours. The receptionist (who books appointments a year out) finally called out the old woman’s name, and the caregiver tried to rouse her from what I thought was a doze.

She was completely non-responsive.

The caregiver frantically begged the receptionist to get the doctor. “The doctor is in his office and cannot be disturbed,” was her answer. Really. She would not, even with all the patients in an uproar, go inside and get the doctor—who I’m sure had no idea what was going on. Long story short, EMS quickly arrived and took her out on a stretcher—still unresponsive… and I believe, dead.

Which, though it may seem macabre, has given me the punch line of all times: “THAT doctor? You could die waiting to see him.”

Now, I don’t usually talk about ambulatory EMR/PM solutions in this space, but I always try and bring them up with my doctor (who, by the way is a brilliant clinician and for me, anyway, worth the wait.) He tells me that he is a one-man shop and it is just too prohibitive for him, cost-wise, not to mention the down time he says is involved in implementing one. So we wait, and we wait, and we wait.

For at least one of us, that wait was too long.

By the way, it’s a year after this happened, time for my annual again, and I’m writing this from my doctor’s waiting room.

I’ve already been here an hour.

(Update: I’m home and the wait was only an hour 45. Why do I do it? Because he spends time talking about my life, treats me as a whole person, asks questions about my family, remembers everything about everything I’ve ever told him, and can make a confident diagnosis using a stethoscope and his hands better than any doctor using an entire a panel of tests. He has oriental rugs in his exam room, art on his walls and is one of the few doctors I know (besides my dad long gone) who practices medicine as an art. I’ll go to him forever.)

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any follow-up on the receptionist --- the one who insisted "The doctor is in his office and cannot be disturbed"? I guess the lack of flexibility didn't matter in this case, but it might in some different situation. Sounds like she could use some additional training. I've encountered wonderful doctors who've had horrible front office/nursing staff.

Daphne,
Thanks for your blog post, and for the "PS/Update: ... Why do I do it?" It's heart-warming to hear personal stories about 'the few doctors ... who practice medicine as an art.'

I was absolutely privileged to be trained by dozens upon dozens of doctors who behaved the same way. They put the same love and care into their teaching as they did for the care of their patients. Amazingly, every one of them had a presence when they entered the exam room or the hospital room. It's with special sadness that I listen to their retirement plans. Some have retired. I can't believe it because I can't fathom that decades have past since we first met. Others have gone concierge. In most of their cases, it's revenue-neutral to them. They've lost so much value-recognition and control that they turned concierge in a form of self-defense. My personal physician did, as has the physicians for both of my parents. Incidentally, mine was up on NextGen for several years. And, EMR/PMs are a marker for practices who chose to manage their practices (and are adequately structured to do so ... i.e. few solo practitioners.)

Unbelievable story, Daphne.
And I can completely relate when you say you don't mind waiting for a really good doctor. For years, I traveled far out of my way to see a doctor who had the best bedside manner. He was so easy to talk to and he always remembered me. I only had to stop going because I moved even further away. But I can attest that a good doctor really is worth the trouble, whether it's waiting or traveling.

Thanks Joe, glad to see someone else gets it. I was actually thinking of using this doc as a challenge to some of the ambulatory vendors out there. But I reflected a little more and think I'll just leave him alone. He's actually doing fine He's not old either, and has many young people in his practice. Some things just work the way they are.

daphne

Twitter @Daphne Lsawrence

Daphne Lawrence is senior associate editor at Healthcare Informatics magazine, covering the...