Monday, June 16, 2014

On The Tyranny Of Doctors' Receptionists, According To The Law Of Supply And Demand

Like most school teachers, I try to take care of all my doctors' appointments during the summer.  However, the older I get, the more body parts need "tune ups," and the harder it becomes to schedule juggle appointment times.  And the law of supply and demand does not make things any easier.
Take my dentist as a starting point.  He and his son own their practice and their building, so the costs stay down.  They hire their own hygienists and receptionists.  Their hours are reasonable, and they call back when you have questions.  Because it's a small affair, and because there are plenty of dentists in the valley, the wait times aren't bad at all, although for regular cleaning, you have to schedule about a month out.
Then there's my family medicine doctor.  This is becoming a rare breed, as more and more doctors specialize, so one must plan further ahead.  However, he works in a big, well-organized clinic.  There are receptionists available from 8:00 to 5:00 to take calls, and his nurse or assistant will call you back to answer medical questions.  Usually, to schedule a yearly check-up, one must plan 3 to 4 weeks in advance, but times for when you're actually sick are only about a day or two.
But then there's the ob/gyn.
The main problem is that Utah has the birth rate of a 3rd-world country.  (No kidding.  The Utah birth rate is about 2.6 per woman, which is roughly the same as India's birth rate, and 25% higher than the national average of 1.9-2.0 per woman.  In fact, this chart shows that Utah is currently keeping up with the birthrates of countries such as Ecuador and Turkmenistan, and freakin' beating the birthrate of such countries as Bhutan, Colombia, Jamaica, and Iran.  The UK, in contrast, has a birth rate of 1.8 and Japan has 1.26!)  There are simply not enough doctors to meet the needs of the breeding multitudes here.  And this leads to tyranny, plain and simple.
The receptionists all take the same lunch and shut down the whole clinic for the hour.  They also are snippy with patients about medical/appointment questions, and they have a superior attitude about everything.  And the doctor usually spends 3 minutes per appointment with non-pregnant patients.

Planning ahead, I called today to schedule my routine examination with Dr. "X," but, as I am not pregnant, I have a very low status with this particular clinic.

After seven full minutes of  hold music, I managed to speak with a self-appointed goddess receptionist.
Me: Hi!  I need to make my yearly appointment with Dr. "X."
Her: When was your last appointment?  You know the insurance companies won't pay for it if it's even one day before a full year since your last visit.
Me: It was last August, so I'd like to schedule for this August.
Her: What day last August?
Me: *slightly stunned*  Uh, I'm not quite sure.  Mid-August, I think.
Her: *clearly annoyed with my stupidity*  You don't know the exact date?  I just told you that it can't be even one day too early.
Me: Well, don't you have that information on your computer?
Her: *snorts with laughter* No, that's on your chart.  We'd have to pull that up with the nurse, and that would take a couple of days.
Me: *mystified that this brand new clinic has data retrieval methods dating back to the 1950s* Um, could we schedule for September, then?
Her: *even more irritated* No.  We can't schedule for September in June!  Call your insurance company and find out when your last appointment was.  Then you can call me to schedule for August.
Me: But --
Her: *hangs up phone*

This woman clearly enjoys her power.


  1. Needless to say (although I will), I've never had to schedule an OB/GYN appointment. I knew there was a scarcity of them, not only because of the birthrate but due to the insurance premiums, but I never knew that made them so inhospitable. Sorry you have to put up with that.

  2. That bites. I've dealt with my share of snippy medical assistants / receptionists, and I've dealt with them in four different states! Smaller offices are usually nicer people, like you mentioned with your dentist. I don't know why people who manage women's medical issues are so insensitive. :&