Memo from the Editor

July 7, 2006

Your 15 minutes, my day

One Friday recently, I had the luxury of navigating the doctor/patient experience as what I'll call an engaged observer. Not being the patient, I was able to look at the experience with eyes unclouded by illness or pain. What struck me most was the fact that spending 15 minutes with the doctor took up an entire day.

The patient was my husband. On Tuesday night, he was dizzy, nauseated, achy, and had a fever of 102. His temp was normal by Wednesday evening, but when I got home on Thursday, his lower right leg was swollen, red, and hot and it hurt.

Cellulitis, I thought. He'll need a prescription and that means we have to get in to see the doctor before the weekend.

Around 9:15 I gave up waiting for a callback and drove to the office. There, a very accommodating receptionist greeted me happily and told me I could bring my husband in at 11:45. Back home I went and made some phone calls to rearrange my own day. We headed back to the doctor around 11:15. At 12:45 we finally saw the doctor.

He confirmed my Merck-Manual-informed cellulitis diagnosis and wrote out a prescription. But he wanted sonography to definitively rule out a DVT. The receptionist called up to the imaging center and gave us the referral for testing. We were told to go right up, but that we should be prepared for a long wait. It was then about 1:15.

The wait actually wasn't too long and by 2:30 we were home again, having dropped off the prescription at the pharmacy. As I was returning to pick it up, the doctor's office called. There was no clot, they reported, but there was a "swollen gland," and the doctor wanted blood work done. Preferably that afternoon. They'd leave the referral at the front desk.

Back home, drop off the prescription, pick up the husband, back to the doctor's office, and on to the lab. It was about 4:30 before we were back at home for the duration. And for most of the day my husband's leg, which should have been elevated, was anything but.

I'm not suggesting that much could have been done differently. Well, okay, I think it's unconscionable that a patient can't get in touch with the office before 10:00 a.m., but I'm glad we could see the doctor and I'm glad he was thorough, given my husband's other health concerns.

But it's kind of sobering to consider how much time 15 minutes with you translates into on the other side of the doctor/patient encounter. I thought you might like to know.