Let Inga Tell You: You’re not the Dalai Lama

I was hugely dismayed to walk into a local doctor’s office recently and see the following sign: Please be advised that your waiting time could be extensive. If you are unable to continue your wait, please let the receptionist know and she will reschedule your appointment. Thank you for your understanding and patience as the doctor takes the time to provide excellent medical care to all.

Here’s the translation:

We make absolutely no effort to schedule in any meaningful way or to respect the time and comfort of our patients. Be prepared to sit here all afternoon because we have egos the size of Connecticut and think the sun rises and sets on our board certified tushies. Should you get so fed up that you leave, our hostile office staff will assure you that the same thing will happen the next time so you might as well suck it up and stay since you’ve already paid for parking. Regardless, we’re keeping your co-pay.

They weren’t joking about the “extensive.” Sorry, guys: this is ridiculously bad management disguised as dedicated health care. All medical offices — in fact, anyone in a field that books appointments — has to figure out appropriate scheduling. Failing to even try is just rude and disrespectful.

A glutton for punishment, I confess I had actually had contact with this group once before in 2012. My then-primary care doctor had referred me there for a consult but merely achieving a human to schedule an appointment took some 14 phone calls over three days. Even during business hours, I kept getting a message to “please call back during business hours.”

On the third day, I systematically tried every one of the eight options but got a recording on all of them. On Option 6, the authorizations line, a truly crabby troll chastised people for taking up her time, admonishing them that if it hadn’t been at least two weeks, don’t bother leaving a message. Yowsers.

On my first appointment there in 2012, I waited a little over two hours in a waiting room that was so packed that people — elderly people — were standing. When I came back to review my test results, I waited an hour and forty minutes. I refused to ever go back a third time.

So what possessed me to go back there again? My new primary care doctor wanted me to have a consult with a different doctor in this practice. Please note that there are no lack of doctors in this specialty in La Jolla. (This group must throw one helluva Christmas party.) When I called, sure enough, I got voice mail. But in fairness, I would like to note that their voice mail now sports a less cranky troll who notes that if has been less than 14 days for an authorization, “please be patient.” They still don’t want you to leave a message, but the delivery is oodles better.

Having decided I would call these people exactly once, I was about to search out a different specialist the next morning when an actual human returned my call from the day before. This gave me hope that they had changed in the last three years. But then I arrived and saw the sign.

I had the prior week’s New York Times crossword puzzles in my purse in case I had to wait. I checked in and filled out all the usual insurance and medical history and reason-for-visit forms. Before they called my name, I still had time to do the Saturday crossword, which, I may say, is usually a bear.

I was encouraged when I was taken to an examining room and told that the doctor would be “right in.” “Right in” in their world turns out to be a half hour and I had done the Friday puzzle and started on the Thursday.

When the doctor arrived, he handed me a brief questionnaire asking me to check which of the following 10 symptoms I had. I quickly checked off the five that applied to me and started to hand it back. But he was already out the door, presumably to see another patient. In the meantime, I managed to finish the Thursday puzzle and even start on Wednesday’s.

The doctor reappeared and we reviewed my case. Then he stands (bad sign) and heads for the door again. “Let’s have you take off your shoes and socks,” he says. My shoes were slip-ons. “Ready!” I chirped, hoping to forestall him. But he says, “I’ll be right back” and is gone again. Unfortunately, the earlier-in-the-week puzzles are a lot easier and I finished both Wednesday and Tuesday, now finding myself staring at the walls.

In fairness, did I feel I received a good, if installment-driven, medical consult? Check. Was he nice? Double check. Go back again? Not on your life. Because no doctor’s appointment should take five puzzles.