Appointments and Disappointments: The sickening wait
By Sanjay Pinto


What’s worse than sickness? It’s the sickening waiting period at hospitals and diagnostic centres that are seemingly immune to something called ‘appointments.’ Ideally, there ought to be a difference between patients who plan their schedule and fix appointments in advance and those who just walk in. On the ground, the line is blurred, often non-existent. There is an obvious caveat for emergency cases,where all the schedules are justifiably rehashed.

My wife and I  recently had to take our little son for a battery of medical tests. The doctor referred us to a particular diagnostic centre as the pediatric ‘multi speciality’ hospital where the consultation took place, did not have the equipment for this scan. We could have gone to a more convenient centre but out of respect for the doctor’s referral, made an appointment at the recommended place. “Today we are full. Come tomorrow 12 noon” was the brusque order! No choice of time slots. No reference number. No text confirmation of the appointment. Nestled in a narrow street in Nungambakkam, the scan centre was congested with almost nil parking space. We showed up well on time. After presenting the requisition slip, we were asked to wait for a few minutes. Then came a bombshell. “We are busy now. Come back after two hours.” Pretty much an unannounced cancellation of an appointment. When they had our mobile numbers, shouldn’t they have informed us before we reached? Unwilling to put up with this unprofessional approach, we left. On the way out, I worked the phones and fixed the test at a hospital closer home.

There was more to come. After seeing the medical report, the doctor at the first hospital suggested a second opinion from a senior specialist at another hospital. Fair enough. We called the doctor’s secretary for an appointment and were given a 2 pm slot. At 1.50 pm as we were alighting from the car, Jeeves called and in a franctic tone wanted to know where we were. “Just entering”, I reassured him and under a legitimate belief that the doctor was waiting for us, we skipped the elevator and scampered up the stairs. The anti climax was when we realised that there were ten patients listed before us from 1:30pm onwards and the doctor had not yet arrived. When the average consultation time per patient ranged from ten to fifteen minutes, appointments were fixed with a gap of just five minutes. If the consultation at 1:30pm had not yet begun, why were the others at the bottom of the list not informed? Are mobile numbers taken  only to feed databases or for meaningful purposes like updating patients? The doctor emerged at about 2:15 pm. Guess when our turn came? At 5 pm! That was more than a three hour wait after fixing an appointment.

I’d hate to think that this practice of rustling up as many patients as possible within a small time band is strategic and designed to show ‘demand’. The concept of an appointment comes across as a farce. Is our time any less precious? An hour’s wait is understandable as some patients may require more time than others and medical consultation cannot be done holding a stop watch. But don’t you feel three hours is a bit much? This, I’m told, is quite common in many hospitals. Widespread prevalence of a practice doesn’t justify this scant regard for the time of others.

One can always read a book, scroll down our mobile phones, listen to music with ear phones, meditate or stare blankly at the counter and watch life pass us by. But when you accompany the patient who is a sick child or senior citizen, the inordinate waiting can  be agonising. How often is consideration shown to these vulnerable sections? From bladder and bowel control to exposure to infection to the inconvenience of sitting for long on  uncomfortable chairs, there are genuine difficulties in waiting indefinitely under these circumstances.

Waiting for tests can be more traumatic. Like sitting tight with a full bladder for an ultrasound. Or getting your wits frayed before having to lie still without even swallowing for an MRI. Or sleeping and waking up with a jolt during an EEG in the midst of a noisy ambience with insensitive folks bellowing outside and lackadaisical staff  looking the other way.

Don’t take me amiss. Many of my best friends are doctors. Some of my classmates own  hospitals. I defend doctors and hospitals in medical negligence cases in court. Several doctors are my clients. I have showcased good work of medical professionals in the national media for decades. I don’t jump queues or throw tantrums when asked to wait.  When my beloved mother died in a hospital after a twenty day struggle, I thanked every doctor and nurse who looked after her. And even featured the hospital’s head honcho in one of my columns on Transformers. I am not naming organisations or individuals. Well meaning doctors, hospital owners and associations must instrospect and tell us if this practice of giving appointments and making patients sit around endlessly is unhealthy or not. I’m  waiting.

(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political  Analyst, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)



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