Around the world, there seems to be no shortage of complaints when it comes to health care providers, customer service, and complaints surrounding appointments and waiting times to see your doctor. Generally speaking, in the U.S. anyway, if you want to see a specific doctor, you usually need to make an appointment. Like many others, my experience has been that even with an appointment, I would never be seen at my “pre-arranged” time and I would wind up sitting in the bull pen (patient area) with the rest of the sheep (who also have nothing else to do in life), waiting for my name to be called. What good is an appointment if it never happens as scheduled? Sometimes I would try to outsmart the system and secure the first appointment of the morning, or immediately after lunch. It turns out that even that was not a sound tactic as if there was a walk-in that arrived one minute before me and my scheduled “first” appointment slot, they would be called before me. I don’t profess to know what doctors do behind closed doors and for all I know they could be playing a hand of Cribbage or hiding in a closet sneaking a Snickers bar. It never failed though… something always seemed to get in the way of my scheduled appointment and I would have to wait…wait…and wait, and waste so much time that my own schedule would get screwed up. Some times I would only wait so long until I would walk out and reschedule my “appointment” rather than have to rearrange my entire day’s calendar of events. Actually, of the leading complaints in the healthcare business in the U.S. behind General Practitioner Diagnosis, being Struck of the GP’s List, and Staff Rudeness, you will find in the #4 position is “Waiting Times to see a Practitioner.”
This is really a two-fold complaint as to see some doctors, there may be an extended wait to obtain an appointment, and then there is the long waiting room periods. My concern was always with the long waits, and as my luck usually played out, if there was a pharmaceutical representative selling his companies products anywhere within a 50 mile radius, they were going to show up at this very office, unannounced and without an appointment, just minutes before my name was to be called. And of course, doctors always rolled out the red carpet for these guys, ensuring they cashed in on their share of free lunches, promos and freebies offered by the drug company rep (“Pharmie”). I could always count on one thing for certain – if a “Pharmie” got in to see the Dr. before my name was called, I could automatically add another 30 minutes minimum to my waiting time. And if that 30 minutes ran into the Dr.’s lunch hour, all the sheep were be resigned to graze on a Field and Steam Magazine, cover to cover…thrice!
Enter a developing country and the entire process changes. I have only been to a doctor one time since arriving here for an ear infection, so recently I decided to go back to his office to see about refilling a prescription that I came here with about one year ago. The appointment process is pretty straightforward here. There are basically no appointments! It’s all really simple. You walk in, (first visit I filled out a 5 x 8 card with my name and address), they weigh you, put your weight and date on the card, and you wait your turn. On this day there were only two people ahead of me so I figured my wait time to be a reasonable 20-30 minutes. After about 3 minutes, the current in-patient came out of the office and the next one went in. Now I was #2 in line. After about 10 more minutes, the young pregnant lady ahead of me was called in. This was going pretty good I thought. I should be in and out in less than 15 minutes (unless the pregnant lady decides to give birth). Then this young fellow shows up. Middle to late 20’s, with his well-groomed look and smart appearance, fancy shoulder bag, and arm full of brochures and literature. I’ve seen these guys before and this one was a dead giveaway. A real “Ringer”. There was no fooling me….he was a “Pharmie!”
I realized at that point that this had to be some kind of intervention. Somebody or something was in control and charged with screwing up all the doctors visits in my life. I mean really…half way around the world…how could this be? If only I could convert this bad energy and re-direct the karma over to the Philippine Charity and Sweepstakes Office (PCSO)….or Lotto Office…hmmm. I now knew where I was headed after my doctors visit!
As I sat there, I found myself contemplating how this was all going to play out with the “Pharmie.” I was consciously planning my move. How exactly was I going to beat him to the door when the young pregnant thing made her exit. Was I going to have to use my shoulder or was I going to have to tackle him? As I was reviewing in my mind some of the more common queue jumping techniques I’ve witnessed here in the Philippines, out comes the young pregnant thing and I just froze. I hadn’t concluded my plan…I wasn’t ready! And the “Phamie” just sat there. I was confused. There was no doctor at the door waiving him in…there was no red carpet rolled out. I turned to look at the young receptionist at the counter and no sooner than I made eye contact with her, she motioned for me to go in and see the doctor. No arguments from me here. I was relieved. Come to find out, and from what I further gathered, the “Pharmie” also had no appointment and was to wait his turn in line just like everyone else. Cool!
Granted, this was not like trying to get into St. Lukes in Manila, but nevertheless – in a land where queue jumping is a contact sport, the non appointment system (for Dr.’s offices anyway) of first-come, first-serve works as well as anyone could have designed it. It was honestly the smoothest and most pleasant Dr.’s office visit – without having an appointment – that I have ever experienced. I spent 5 minutes with the Dr. and she filled my prescription with basically no questions asked. I walked out to the street with 150 pesos ($3.45) less than I arrived with and headed straight for the pharmacy on the next corner….with my eyes wide open for an Official Lottery Agent office.