Medical Wait-Times

Last night, we took Liam to the doctor to get another round of immunizations (he’s six months old! Six Whole Months! I can’t believe how fast it has gone). Our appointment was at 5pm. Ominously, when we got there, there were several people already in the waiting room, always a bad sign that the doctor was late. So we sat down and waited. For the first little while, it wasn’t so bad – Liam was in a good mood, I hadn’t seen him all day, so I was quite happy to bounce him and play with him and such. But it was already after 5, which is the start of the witching hour with him, as he begins to get tired and hungry, leading towards a bedtime of around 7:30.

On top of his immunizations, Liam is constipated, and so we wanted to get some advice on that. The poor little guy can’t poop! All that happens when he tries is that he screams and screams, because, you know, it hurts, and nothing comes out. Or the tiniest little diamond-hard pellet. So around 5:45, he’s starting to get pretty damned bored of the waiting already. And he tries to poop. He scrunches up his face and squints his eyes and turns bright red with the effort. And then the screaming begins, because, you know, it hurts! And the other people in the waiting room (did I mention that only one person had actually gone through at this point!?) kinda roll their eyes. But hello! 6-month old baby has been waiting, oh-so-patiently for nearly an hour already! Leah whisks him away to the bathroom to change him and comfort him. He comes back cranky, but no longer crying.

We bounce him a little bit more. Finally, just after 6, the guy ahead of us in line goes through. At 20 after 6, the nurse tells us to go in. On our way in, she tells us that they can only give us 2 of the 3 immunizations, because they ran out of the other one. She offers to see what alternatives the doctor might suggest. Or if we want to get just 2, and come back later for the third. This is after we’ve waited 80 minutes past our appointment time with an exceedingly patient, but increasingly cranky baby.

Leah totally lost it. Understandably. Even I was ready to shout at that point. Well, actually that’s not true. I don’t shout. I get quite and sarcastic and mean. And let me tell you, I was ready to be really fucking sarcastic with that woman, my voice barely a whisper. Leah did a great job of separating her anger from directing it personally at the hapless assistant, who, of course, has no control over either the a) wait times or b) stocking of pharmaceuticals. She could, however, have checked these things when we got there, not right when our appointment finally rolled around.

We chose to not get 2 of 3 shots, but did get the consultation on the constipation, which resulted us having to get a suppository for the critter. Poor little guy. We’re going to be more careful in our food selection, and I think Leah’s going to mix in a little prune juice with every breakfast to help him out in the future. (aside: I feel so bad that he’s constipated. Because it’s totally our fault! We decide what he eats, how much he eats (he has some say in that) and when.)

I know why doctors overbook – so they can bill out more (more patients = more billing). But’s totally unacceptable. There’s gotta be some better way of handling patient loads & billing. I suspect the answer is quite simple – as long as doctors control the billing, and must bill in order to make money, then they’ll always overbook. It’s in their best interests to cram as many potential patients into a day as possible. I don’t know enough about the system to suggest alternatives, but there’s got to be a better way, beyond just legislating around wait times (and I know when the media talk about wait-times, they’re talking about months of waiting for operations, not minutes or hours of waiting for a checkup, but I suspect there’s a systemic relationship between the two.