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Patience

Back in the old days, one of the worst things about seeing a doctor, even if the patient has made an appointment, is the wait.

I don’t know if it’s just a Negrense doctor trait, but based on anecdotes, even Metro Manila doctors are notorious for making patients wait. Perhaps it is a thing among Filipino doctors but the common experience among those who have to see their doctors in this country is that we often have to set aside an entire half day to see a doctor. Most of that time will be spent wasting time waiting outside their clinics.

Doctors who do not test their patients’ patience are apparently an exceptionally rare breed. We have become accustomed to them making us spend hours waiting that we may think it is normal, but if you come to think about it, there is nothing normal nor professional about that practice.

When COVID broke out and everyone became more aware of the dangers of spending too much time waiting in high-risk environments, there was hope for this tradition to finally be dispensed with. Doctors’ clinics certainly qualify as high risk areas because people with various sicknesses converge there and many of us thought that COVID would be the game changer that would give the world this one benefit of fixing an utterly broken system.

We already know by now that spending too much time anywhere is dangerous for our health. Doctors of all people should know that too but from what I’ve seen in the past few months, not much has changed. People still spend too much time waiting for their physicians outside their clinics. If not outside the actual clinics, people are still asked to wait at the supposedly socially distanced waiting areas. If doctors and their secretary/gatekeepers were serious about reducing risk and increasing efficiency, they had one whole year to come up with a better system. Unfortunately for us patient patients, not much has changed.

Doctor’s appointments still mean nothing. They usually give us a general time to be there and if you are lucky, you can be inside within 30 minutes. For the rest who didn’t win the doctor lottery, it’s a 2-3 hour wait in a high risk environment.

A capable and highly efficient secretary would be a key to reducing waiting times but like good doctors, such people are also one in a million. Most of them are as old-school as it gets: from record keeping to organizing appointments. Although they have a certain charm for those who know them or their suki, there is no denying they come from a land of filing cabinets and landlines.

If you come to think of it, pharma companies can help us here. They spend gazillions bribing doctors with gifts and travel packages, even dispensing cash for renovating clinics to make them more COVID-safe. I would really appreciate the Pharma Company that could come up with an appointment app or website that can help us spend less time waiting, both wasting time and increasing risk of exposure to COVID and the many other contagious diseases that are probably on the prowl in medical centers and clinics.

I imagine an app where a patient can secure an appointment with their doctor, and then once it is confirmed, sends regular notifications to the patient if the appointment is on time or delayed. In places like the metro Bacolod area, a notification of confirmation or delay 1 hour prior to appointment would really help us plan how much time we are going to waste waiting. This shouldn’t be so hard to create. Secretaries can be trained to use it. Instead of Doc’s trip to Europe that we the consumers ultimately pay for when we buy the medicines they prescribe, we can get a technology solution to an age-old cultural problem. I won’t begrudge it if doc and secretary even get a free device so they can use the app properly. I’d be forever grateful to the pharma that can attempt to deploy a solution that would reduce the waiting time and make us less impatient everytime we visit our doctors.

Aside from the obnoxious waiting times, our doctors also have to work on their online consultation game. We can go to them when it’s absolutely necessary, but for follow up consultations, online or tele consults should be fine. Prepayment is fine if they are afraid we won’t pay up. What is important is we don’t have to go to their clinics unless absolutely necessary. Doctors of all people should know that and they should be actively finding solutions to reduce everyone’s exposure if possible.

I’m glad I’m more or less done with my doctor appointments that were delayed for 2020. I’m hoping I don’t have to see one anymore for 2021. But if I do, I’m hoping that COVID can still force our doctors to change the way they practice their profession and keep up with the times.

There has got to be a better way of doing this.*

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