The Hospital Waiting Room Essay

The Waiting Room Creative Writing Essay

The waiting room was still and quiet except for the hypnotic tick of
the old plastic clock hanging on the wall. A smell evoking images of
latex gloves and mouthwash hung in the air, as the dentist worked
behind the closed door. The little boy across the room fidgeted
uncontrollably while his mother chose to ignore it. Her face was drawn
and pale. Her hands were placed on top of her lap and she wrung them
continuously. She wore baggy red patterned trousers, a multi-coloured
striped jumper and on her head was a faded red bandana, firmly sealed
over a mass of scruffy brown curls. The child’s brown hair stuck out
in all directions. His coat was dated, his tracksuit bottoms gathered
around his ankles, and his black shoes hung of his feet with the
frayed laces draping downwards.

The white washed walls in the waiting room revealed not a spot of
dirt. The navy carpet was woven and the red seats were covered in a
plastic ‘ wipe clean’ material. Eyes delivered across to the large
wooden door as the silver handle turned. The door creaked open and out
stepped the dental nurse. She was young, tall and slight. Her ponytail
hung over one shoulder, her cheeks were blushed red, mascara made her
eyelashes look like spiders legs and her lips were tinted pink. The
nurse looked down to her note pad and called, “Miss Mines, if you’d
like to come through, the dentist is ready.” The lady with the odd
attire stood up and with her little boy in tow, took a deep breath and
walked slowly towards the door.

The door to the dentist’s room quietly shut and whispers swept across
the waiting room.

“Did you see the state of that little boy, how could his mother leave
him to get like that.” Bickered to elderly women in the corner.

“I heard she’s going to court for benefit fraud, claiming the little
boy had an illness she was,” the two secretaries behind the desk

Slowly, the gossip calmed and again the only noise in the waiting room
was the hypnotic tick of the clock. Minutes passed by and it wasn’t
long before the scruffy lady and her little boy stepped out of the
dentist’s room and made their way to the secretary’s desk. The
secretary looked up. “Can I help you?” she enquired. The lady didn’t
answer but gazed out of the window behind the desk; her big brown eyes
were shallow and empty. Her little boy began to tug on her jumper,
“Mummy…the lady…Mummy!” The mother soon...

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Now, as efficiency, cost-effectiveness and consumer satisfaction become prominent health care goals, the value of everyone's time is getting a certain amount of lip service. Still some of the new principles of patient flow might well apply to flipping burgers on a fast-food grill. More patients mean more cash, after all, and idle doctors mean money lost. Lavish overbooking can compensate for costly broken appointments. The usual solution to an overbooked waiting room and a sluggish cash flow alike: speed that doctor up.

But the profit-making assembly line of health care never did run smooth. A set of studies published in The Journal of Family Practice last year showed that the more time a doctor spent with a patient, the more satisfied with the visit the patient was, particularly when the doctor took some time just to chat. Faster doctors who saw more patients a day had less satisfied patients. Their patients were also less likely to be up to date on immunizations and important screening tests like mammograms.

Studies have shown that patients who are generally satisfied with their doctors are less likely to sue if something goes wrong. Surveys from around the world confirm that the single greatest stressor for a medical provider in the course of the day's work is to be behind schedule. No study is needed to show that stressed doctors do not chat.

And so hospitals, clinics and medical offices are now creating schedules from complicated multivariate equations that balance cash, stress, waiting time, no-show rates, patient satisfaction, malpractice considerations, and just incidentally, the nature of the health care dispensed.

All the solutions are different. My clinic recently sliced our allotted time with each patient down to 20 minutes. This was intended to balance out a very high rate of broken appointments so that each of us might do better at meeting a quota of 1.43 patients per hour -- a modest demand, actually, considering a recent United Hospital Fund study that clocked average physician speed in New York City at 1.9 to 3.1 patients per hour.

On some days the new system is fine: the right number of appointments are broken and everyone chats up a storm. On other days the world pours in, with appointments and without, each patient more complicated and time-consuming than the last. These are the days of near-riot in the waiting room as doctors register ear-popping sonic boom speeds -- 3.2, 4.7, 5.3 patients per hour. Those hours are chat-free.

Some patients are calling ahead now for the equivalent of a highway traffic report. Down the hall, one of my colleagues has stopped looking at her watch and just hopes for the best. Another is trying to reset her internal odometer with the help of an oven timer perched on her desk. When it dings, she winds things up.

A third is a true subversive at heart. She works slowly, and is rumored to lock her door on occasion, and turn off the volume on her phone. I happen to know that she has an immersion heater and a large stash of tea bags in a desk drawer. It gives me a certain pleasure to imagine that sometimes when things are bad out there in the waiting room -- the crowds howling, the receptionists pleading, the accusations and apologies flowing thick and fast -- inside her examining room all is serene as doctor and patient methodically sort through a lifetime of problems over a cup of tea.

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