I am sometimes amazed at how difficult some people find it to provide good customer service. I’m not usually a very demanding customer – since I’m in the customer service biz myself, I try to be understanding. When I get angry is on those occasions when I find that my time is being wasted unnecessarily. This is a problem I bump into frequently when dealing with the medical profession, and recently I ran into an issue that made me want to breathe fire.

Last week, I had an appointment to see my dermatologist. My dermatologist is an older guy with sort of a gruff exterior, but I like him because he doesn’t go out of his way to sugar coat anything (when I don’t follow his recommendations, he calls me on it). Also, he’s the type of guy who will call you at 9pm with a test result rather than wait until the next day (which can help in the sleep department). He takes plenty of time with his patients, though, and as such he can get behind with his appointments. A couple of years ago, after I found myself sitting in his waiting room for more than an hour, his receptionist told me that in the future I should call to see how his appointments are running before coming in. That, she assured me, would save both time and frustration.

I remembered that advice this past week and called my dermatologist’s office at 2:30pm for my 3pm appointment. When I asked how the appointments were running, the receptionist told me that I would be “all set.” I didn’t want to take any chances, so I followed up by asking if that meant that I would get in at or around 3pm and she replied, “Yes, there is only one person ahead of you, you should be fine.” I felt good about having called – like I had beaten the system somehow. I got to the doctor’s office and was checking in about 5 minutes early when I noticed another patient sitting in the waiting room. I took this to be a bad sign.

After glancing at the pile of outdated magazines (Cat Fancy!), I decided to play with my phone – ignoring the large sign that asked me not to use my phone. After what seemed like an hour, I looked up at the big clock on the wall behind the receptionist and saw that it was 3:10. At 3:25, a patient exited the office. At 3:35, the person who had been in the waiting room was called in. The one person ahead of me got in 35 minutes after my appointment time. I focused on thinking dark thoughts about the receptionist while trying to force Words With Friends to take “yer” as a word.

Minute after minute passed. I had hoped to be out of the office by 3:30 and back to work by 4pm, but now that was clearly not going to happen. Tick tick tick. At 3:45, two men came into the office. I wanted to tell them that they might as well go out for a drink, or to suggest some form of patient revolt (silly string attack?), but instead I glared at my phone. 4pm came and went.
Finally, at 4:15 I was called in to the office. I was greeted by a friendly medical student, who took a detailed history, including information about my brother who passed 3 years ago from melanoma. When the medical student was done, I sat about another 10 minutes before my doctor came in. He glanced at my chart and asked, “I see that your brother has melanoma – what happened with that?” This has become an annual ritual, and I realize that he doesn’t have time to remember the history of a guy he sees once a year, but I had just told the med student and had given him the information each of the last two years. He expressed genuine sorrow for my brother’s passing, which was nice of him, and we had a productive appointment.

On my way out of the office, I lingered and asked the receptionist, “When I called at 2:30pm and asked about my 3pm appointment you said it would be on time. What happened there?”
The receptionist looked at me for a second, like a horse pondering a fly it is about to swish away with its tail. “The schedule can change in five minutes,” the receptionist said in an empty, monotone voice. “In fact, today the doctor had 2 emergencies.”

I should have filled the waiting room with an impromptu rendition of the Rollins Band ditty “Liar” because, well, it’s a dermatologist. Dermatology is a line of medicine that, as one of my nurse friends said, “…does not lend itself to emergency treatment.” This is a profession where new patients often wait weeks and weeks for appointments. So, to sum up, I am to believe that in a smallish Central Massachusetts town, two emergency skin cases walked through the door between 2:30 and 3pm on a random Thursday?

Bull. The receptionist just gave me whatever answer would ensure that when it was my turn I would be found cooling my heels in the reception area. I mean, even if two emergency appointments HAD walked into the office between 2:30 and 3pm – the receptionist had my phone number, so maybe a phone call would have been in order? After all, hadn’t I done what she recommended in an effort to save time and frustration?

Usually, I would just take my business elsewhere, but is it worth it to give up a doctor because his office continually, and needlessly, wastes my time? I think the answer is yes, since I think that someone has to take a stand, but I hate to do it (which is why the doctor’s office is empowered to waste my time). No wonder people pine for the days of the house call.