I called my doctor today. Well, I called her office, of course. I needed an appointment to see her this week. First available appointment was next Friday (11 days). “Okay,” I  thought, settling, “That will do.”

But forgive me, let me rewind. The receptionist asked me for my medical record number. Before my name. It was the first question he had for me upon answering the call. When I didn’t have it, he started with my first and last name along with my birth date. We found my record without trouble. But he noticed it had been 5 years since I’d been in. This brought trouble.

I said, “I’ve been having babies, so my OB has been doing my preventative care,” to which he said nothing. “Well,” he said, “I’ll have to e-mail the doctor. She’ll need to agree to see you since it’s been so long.” It gets worse: “It’s going to be another week until we know,” he said. “She’s on Spring Break this week, so it may not be until next week that you hear if you can get in. Unless she is checking e-mail while away.”

Oh, I hope she’s not checking e-mail on Spring Break. Really. But,

Fired from her practice for not coming in? “Expiring” from a physician’s practice? This is a new one for me. I certainly hope my patients don’t fall off my list after a certain point. I’ll ask tomorrow…

There are a lot of things wrong with health care.

“Okay,” I said, muzzling myself, trying desperately not to mention that I was a doctor, too. That I had her e-mail myself and could write/beg her to take me back in. “Let’s grab that appointment then, so I don’t lose the opportunity to see her next Friday. If need be, you can cancel it.”

He declined.

I mentioned that by the time she returned from vacation, got through her E-mail, responded to his request, allowing him to call me back to schedule an appointment, the Friday opening would surely be gone. “Not necessarily,” he replied. This is when I dropped the dreaded I’m-a-doctor-I-get-how-this works-way-too-well bomb: “In my practice it would be.”

Health care isn’t supposed to feel like this. As a doctor I never want my patients to feel like they can’t access me, that they “expire” when absent from the office, or that they are an e-mail decision away from being in or out of the fold of care. I don’t want them to feel like their medical record number usurps their name. I should never need to mention I’m a doctor when scheduling an appointment. This shouldn’t be about privilege or “working the system.” This distance, this divorce, this space that exists (and seems to grow) between doctors and patients, it ultimately hurts us. In our efforts to reform health, and in our efforts to partner and participate in preserving health… This crack/divide/space is why I get phone calls every single week from relatives, old friends, new friends, friends of friends, and fellow physicians asking for medical advice. It is simply too challenging to reach our own providers, our doctors–our partners in health. Easier to phone a friend.

We must make this better.

Tell me what has worked for you and your family when scheduling appointments? What works for access to your doctor? Tell me what doesn’t…
This example highlights the benefit of we physicians getting stuck on the other side from time to time, on a Monday phone call, going nowhere.