WE’VE ALL EXPERIENCED THE unusual atmosphere only found in a doctor’s waiting room. I normally play the ‘guess-what’s-wrong-with-people’ game when I'm waiting to be seen. It’s funny how embarrassed people get, simply because they're waiting to see a doctor. Most instantly swing their heads in the opposite direction, anything to avoid eye contact or any kind of communication; pretending they've not seen you looking at them.
For some it’s a day out, excited to tell the person next to them about their ailments or holiday plans. The best they can hope for is a polite smile or nod as the person next to them listens with fake interest; desperately hoping to be the next called.
Others sit patiently hidden behind out of date women’s magazines, praying not to be recognised by anyone they know, and avoiding awkward questions.
Babies cry hysterically while crawling around on the floor, elderly woman make high-pitched noises that only bats can hear, hoping to distract the babies from upending the closest plant pot; which are normally in dire need of water. The young mums just look on admiringly, conveniently oblivious to how annoying their youngest is being.
In the past when patients entered a doctors waiting room, they received the standard ‘interrogation' from the receptionist, who insisted on wanting to know their inner most private problems before agreeing to book an appointment. Apparently, the doctor’s availability varies depending on the severity of their problem. Patients would report to the receptionist’s desk, cheerfully announcing their name and be told to take a seat, all said in the same monotone voice used to tell people to 'Mind the gap' if using the London Underground.
However now patients are being asked to “book-yourself-in” by using an LCD touch screen located by the fire exit; just a coincidence I’m sure. Some are convinced they’ve unwittingly upset the receptionist, others realise it’s something everyone is being asked. One woman on being told to “book-yourself-in” asked if the waiting room now doubled as an EasyJet kiosk after 9 am, causing a chuckle from the people behind her.
Now I’ve made my living from technology, encouraging software developers to purchase new versions or upgrades. Using weak arguments that it’s an essential improvement or ‘to their benefit'. However, I struggle to see what advantage an LCD touch screen arrival system has for an ill poor sighted pensioner who now has to fumble around for five minutes to find their glasses before being able to follow the instructions on a screen. Most mutter something to the receptionist about it being impersonal, some manage to punch their date of birth into the screen and wait with anticipation for a ticket to be printed; others simply leave without seeing anyone.
The unusual waiting room atmosphere has increased to a state of heightened anxiety now, the collection of patients waiting to be seen suffer from increased blood pressure at minimum; as most wait hoping they've 'booked-themselves-in' correctly. The receptionist sounds like an automated parrot, repeatedly telling everyone to use the screen. I watch with interest as most people randomly jab the screen thinking it's some sort of cash point. Patients can no longer hide behind magazines, in fear of being noticed. They are forced to stare at a newly mounted flat screen monitor in hope that the next number to be displayed matches their printed ticket. I’d found myself sitting next to a woman who thought she was playing some sort of poker game and kept one hand covering her ticket in-case I saw her number. After listening to her experiences during the war and the problems she’d been having with her waterworks, she whispered to me that she was number ‘828’. She acted like she'd just divulged some scandalous information that might bring the government down. I tried to explain that it didn’t matter if I knew her number as it was unique to her. It’s a little like playing the National Lottery I explained, but everyone’s a winner. However you don't win a million or two, but you do get to see your doctor. For me, I can no longer play the ‘guess-what’s-wrong-with-people’ game, or even use the excuse of being in a waiting room to read tips on ‘the perfect orgasm' from the numerous well-thumbed women’s magazines laid out in front of me. I too am forced to gaze intently at a television screen watching adverts about getting active or having the flu jab, in fear of missing my number being flashed up between ads. I was listening to two elderly sounding gentlemen behind me, one was saying he thought it was the same system that Ikea the catalogue people used, which notifies you when your order is ready for collection. The other was saying he hated computers and would prefer to move to a different doctor rather than be told what to do by a computer.
I can't help but wonder if the expense of the computer and various flat screen monitors can be justified, to simply notify the patients of their appointment. However if it enables our doctors to see more people, ultimately getting us out of the waiting room faster, and eventually enabling people to book appointments without the interrogation of the overly zealous receptionist, then it’s a worthwhile investment. I just hope the likes of the elderly poor sighted woman who enjoys chatting to people, and the man sitting behind me who ‘hates computers', won't be put off from seeing their doctor.
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