Family Health Care: Are You an Empowered Patient?

6 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

I had a really terrible doctor's visit yesterday.

My eyes have been giving me a bit of trouble lately, so I made an appointment for a "simple" eye exam at a nearby optometrist's office during my lunch break. I thought it would be a fairly straightforward, in-and-out visit. After all, I have had full physicals in less than an hour. I thought wrong.

I arrived at my appointment on time, and after announcing myself, was handed a clipboard without so much as a greeting. I filled out the paperwork and proceeded to sit and wait for the next 20 minutes, while the optometrist puttered in and out of his office, chatting with the receptionist, and doing who-knows-what. I was the only patient in the office. Finally, he decided it was time to see me. As I walked into the exam room, he said somewhat condescendingly "Don't you look nice? Did you just finish work?" was 12:20. "Nope. I'm still in the middle of my work day," I said, hopeful that he would take the hint that I had important things to get back to. "Ohhhh. I'll bet you don't want to go back," he incorrectly guessed. "No, actually, I really enjoy what I do," I replied. To which he replied, "I'm glad somebody does." *Red flag!*

Instead of getting to the business of giving me the eye exam, this doctor proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes slowly asking me questions about my personal life and health. Yes, I understand that doctors often ask about what medications you are taking and why you are taking them. But WHY does an optometrist need to know that? And I am SURE that he didn't need to know whether my kids were boys or girls, how old they are, and what I named them! Nonetheless, I patiently answered questions thinking that ANY MINUTE I was going to get my eye exam.

Then the receptionist who never greeted me knocked on the exam room door. "Ummm...(name) is on the phone and he's asking if the part he's been waiting for has come in..." What?  I have NEVER had a receptionist deliver a message to the physician in the middle of an exam before. And from the tone of her voice, I could tell that it was not an emergent message - just something that she didn't know the answer to. Yet...instead of telling her to take a message (or a hike)...the doctor actually GOT UP AND LEFT! He didn't even excuse himself. Just up and walked out of the exam room. *Dear Patient: You are very unimportant and your time means nothing to me.*

So again I sat and waited. And waited. Five minutes went by. Then 10 minutes. I began to fume as I thought about the lovely lunchtime run that I had given up to come to this appointment. I wanted to just get up and leave, but my "polite patient" persona kept holding me back. I hate to be rude. And after all - I had already invested THIS much time. I wanted it to be worth something! But after 15 minutes had gone by without so much as an explanation, I had finally had enough. I was PISSED. I was the only patient in the office, and still had not received the service I had come for almost an hour after my appointment time. How ridiculous is that?

I got up, marched to the reception desk and calmly said, "I'm going to go ahead and leave. I don't have time for this. Please purge all my personal information because I'm going to find another doctor." To which she simply shrugged and said, "I'm sorry." (Yeah, right.) Nonetheless, I felt pretty darn proud of myself as I drove off the parking lot. I felt like I was in charge of my own health and who I allow to manage it.

This was the first time that I have ever walked out of a doctor's appointment mid-visit. But in all honesty, it wasn't the first time that I should have - which is the thought that inspired me to write this blog post. How many of us really feel empowered to get up and walk out when we are in the middle of a doctor's appointment? Maybe I'm just waaaay too nice, but I have a feeling that I'm not the only one who has sat silently fuming while a health care provider acted in a way that made me feel uncomfortable - or even downright angry. It's a little ironic, because most of us would have no problem getting up and leaving a restaurant where we were receiving terrible service. But for some reason, we feel more obligated to stay when our health is on the menu.

Don't get me wrong - I love doctors! In fact, I used to be the PR & marketing manager for a hospital, where I worked closely with many physicians. Some of them became my family's trusted care providers, and I seriously shed a few tears over leaving them behind when we left St. Louis for Boston. However, getting to know some really good doctors also taught me that are some not-so-good doctors too. And you - the patient (or the parent of the patient) - have to be empowered to use your knowledge and instincts to tell them apart. Just because you schedule an appointment with a doctor doesn't mean you owe him or her anything (other than your co-pay). They have to EARN your business and your trust, and sometimes physicians forget that.

Which doctor is the right one for you and your family? Not the one who makes you feel stupid because you asked too many questions about something you didn't understand. Not the one whose bedside manner makes your children scream in terror. And not the one who expects you to respect their time but doesn't value yours.

I hate to make assumptions, but I can only imagine that this inconsiderate, nonchalant doctor would not have provided the level of care that I expect or deserve. So although my precious time was wasted yesterday afternoon, I'm pretty glad that I got out when I did. When it comes to health care for myself and my family, I always want to be an empowered patient! How about you?

Kate Hayes
Twitter ID: @Bostonblogmom