Dear Doctor

Please note, all names of people and places have been changed to protect the identity of those involved and to prevent any lawsuits that may be instituted as a result of this blog post.

Dear Dr Jones,

My son Secundo is a patient of yours and we recently attended your clinic at the Royal South Bay Hospital. I am writing this letter as a blog post, confident in the knowledge that:

(a) not many people read my posts so it seems unlikely I will receive a counter-complaint from the public hospital system; and

(b) you definitely don’t read my posts so my son can continue to be your patient as he really likes you and your “crazy hair”.

I attended your clinic with Secundo (aged 6), Prima (aged 7) and Newborn (aged 18 months).  We arrived on time for an 8am appointment, first with the orthoptist who measures my son’s vision and this was supposed to be followed by a consultation with you.

The orthoptist saw us at 10am for a 5 minute measurement. I would love to know how he was running 2 hours late by 8am. According to the orthoptist, Secundo’s vision has not changed since our last consultation.

We then waited another 45 minutes to see you. Except that by that time, you had left, and we were seen by a junior doctor. Junior doctor will remain nameless because he didn’t think it necessary to begin the consultation with a “Hello, I’m Dr [insert name] and I realise you’ve been waiting for 3 hours to see Dr Jones but unfortunately he is no longer here due to [insert name of fake or actual medical emergency].”

The junior doctor saw us for 6 minutes during which time all he told me was that Secundo’s vision was the same as before. I was really pleased we had waited the extra 45 minutes because I was not sure what the orthoptist meant when he said “Secundo’s vision has not changed” and I really needed some one else to explain that to me. Having waited almost 3 hours for that translation I was clearly foolishly expecting a “And the next step is…” Surprised by my request for more information, the junior doctor called you and interrupted your fake or actual medical emergency and you told him what the next steps were. Thank you for that.

I thought perhaps I could offer a few helpful hints to your clinic and its staff in anticipation of our next visit:

– there is a TV in the waiting room, please use it. I (and other equally desperate parents) asked your receptionists a few times to turn it on.  Corrupted by some kind of sadistic power trip, they refused, citing that “the clinic is too busy”. If I had to work there for the rest of my life, I’d probably hate my fellow man too.

– institute a ticketed queuing system like the one used by Shoes & Sox. That way, when I arrive at 7:50am for an 8am appointment, I can see that there are 648 patients in front of me, and I can organise the children’s toilet visits, pace the snacks and perhaps pitch a tent accordingly.

– when politely asked by an exhausted parent why it is taking so long to see some one, please don’t shrug your shoulders and suggest I “go private” – unless you want me to lecture you on the extortionate “gap” that doctors charge here (despite the not-insignificant private health insurance premiums we have to pay), the need for greater private practice price regulation (oligopoly any one?), and the sheer audacity of being told that by a young doctor who almost certainly drove a BMW.

I have no problem with BMWs, their drivers or doctors that drive them. I am in fact related to a few of them and you will not find a patient more sympathetic to the pressures of the medical profession and the public hospital system than me. I recognise that:

– the public hospital system is under-funded, under-staffed and over-worked and that despite this, the quality of the care is often excellent;

– in the public health system, there will always be delays (unless you live in Norway or Sweden, where in my imagination I perhaps inaccurately believe that public services are delivered on time by a tall blonde man who looks a lot like Stefan Edberg);

– we should be grateful (and I am grateful) that we have a public health system at all (let alone one that functions so well) because in [insert name of any third world country or the USA] people do not have this and they (and their children) suffer terribly for it.

I think I just wanted some one to say “I’m sorry you had to wait, it’s not our fault but we understand it must be hard to entertain three children for three hours. We are tired and overworked too so we don’t mean to sound as snappy and mean-spirited as we do and as you have now become.”

Yes, this is a first-world complaint but it is still my complaint and you know what they say, a complaint shared is a complaint halved or doubled or something.  And when I follow your “next steps” Dr Jones, which were to do nothing and come back in 6 months time, I won’t be going private but I will be bringing my laptop and enough Disney movies to get me through the day.

Yours sincerely and with genuine appreciation of the public health system,



About Shankari Chandran

Six years ago we returned home from London to Sydney with our four young children and life has been chaos and comfort chocolate ever since.
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10 Responses to Dear Doctor

  1. PK says:

    You should totally send this – feedback is a gift! 🙂

  2. I am too worried he will fire Secundo from his patient list! I am a coward, I know. But I feel better for sharing. x

    • Gs says:

      I totally second the opinion and for the record US public hospital service is much better than this if this is what is the great oz public health system thanks but you can keep it

  3. Mark Hilton says:

    I think someone could make a lot of money outsourcing customer service for doctors 🙂 Another great blog to lighten my day!

    Cheers Mark

  4. margaret says:

    Sorry that you had to wait so long, but am bemused why this is only addressed to Doctor Jones. Firstly, it was the orthoptist, not Dr Jones who kept you waiting for 2 hours and threw out the schedule. Secondly, Dr Jones probably did have to see other patients or operate so was unfortunately not able to see you once the time he had allocated for his clinic patients had expired. The junior reg was probably called away from seeing patients in order to see you, and the time you spent waiting was probably the time the staff had to find him and for him to finish what he was in the middle of in order to come to the outpatient clinic. While he was impolite, it is not Dr Jones’ fault. I fully agree that you deserved a BIG apology, but also feel that it is not fair to blame Dr Jones

    • duckformationfamily says:

      Hi Margaret, thank you very much for your comment. I’m not blaming Dr Jones for the delay (although I am disappointed we waited so long and didn’t even see him). I just didn’t know who else to address my letter to (the reg didn’t bother to introduce himself even). I think in the end, more than an apology, I really wanted one or all of them to say “we are in this together, it’s hard for you and it’s hard for us” – I think that kind of message that would make doctor/hospital staff and patient feel like they were on the same side, which we are.

  5. David Campbell says:

    I agree with Margaret: it probably wasn’t Doctor Jones’s fault. In my experience, the professional staff in hospitals do their best, and generally “their best” is fantastic. However, in hospitals – much like a lot of large bureaucracies which operate a monopoly – small amount of systems design and empathy would go a huge way to making life better for the user of the service (or “patient”, as we used to be called).

    I recently took my son (small, lovely, much more tolerant than I am) to hospital for a minor operation, the insertion of grommets to help his hearing and balance. I’m not qualified to judge the quality of the work done by the medical team – as far as I know, they could have guided the grommets gently into his little ears with unparalleled skill and care, or could have flicked them in his vague direction from across the other side of the operating theatre. However, when it came to explaining the procedure to my wife and I, allaying our fees about general anasthetics, telling us what we needed to do and what we could expect, they could not have been better. The junior registrar came and explained the basics to us first, followed by a more senior doctor, followed by the consultant surgeon who would actually perform the operation, who answered all our questions with patience, understanding and genuine concern. (Being a lawyer, and knowing law firms far better than hospitals, I equated this procession of people as the trainee, then the associate, followed by the partner.) We were anxious about the op, but they made the experience as good as it could have been, and I could not have been more grateful at the time, or even now when I think back to the day.

    A few hours after a successful operation, Sam was ready to go home – we merely had to wait for some ear-drops which we’d need to give him for the next few days. We waited an hour for a porter to arrive with these ear drops from the dispensary, then another hour – with an increasingly fractious and tired child, and being brushed off with platitudes like “I’m sure they’ll be here any minute”. I offered to collect the drops myself from the dispensary, but that wasn’t on – the dispensary doesn’t accept visitors. (Again, equating with a law firm – if you had a client waiting for a document in reception, would you keep him waiting while you put the document in the internal post?) Eventually I turned into what I dread seeing in all situations like this – the argumentative parent demanding a response and refusing to move from the reception desk until I got a satisfactory answer. In my defence, I had a tired wife and child to defend, and someone had to look out for their interests since the admin staff clearly weren’t doing so. Ultimately, wife and child were released to go home without me and the ear-drops, and I sulkily went to the coffee shop with a newspaper. The ear-drops eventually turned up, about 5 hours after we could otherwise have left the hospital. The final irony was that these turned out to be basic drugs that I could have bought over a pharmacy counter for not much more than the price of my coffee!

    It’s the old cliche about the “orange juice on the aeroplane”. You fly from London to Singapore – it’s an amazing feat of engineering and logistics, you’re flying at 800 miles an hour, at 35,000 feet above the ground, in comfort and safety, with logistical operations at either end of the journey to fuel the aircraft, load and unload your baggage, etc. But what you remember is that you asked the stewardess for an OJ, she forgot to bring it for ages, and when it eventually turned up she hadn’t put any ice in it. People are sometimes hard to please – but the flip side is that sometimes a little thought, and consideration of what is actually bothering someone rather than a bigger underlying issue, can go a long way.

  6. MAGICAL! We just had to wait an hour to see a doctor for our first baby and thought that was bad – your brought back the smiles to my day, thanks 🙂

    • duckformationfamily says:

      I hear you! Don’t get me started on ante-natal care waiting rooms. I have stories that could make you laugh and cry and experience waiting-room rage simultaneously. I can’t help but love the doctors and midwives that look after our babies though. I always feel a kind of lifelong debt (despite the number of hours I have spent waiting…..) xx

  7. The public health system is one big wait. It must be hard to entertain kids in the midst of sickness and while everyone else is waiting too.

    I’ve sat in the public hospital outpatient clinic for hours at a time, waiting for my specialists. I often worry when I have to be back at work. And emergency visits are worse – up to 9 hours wait for a bed, 5 hours to see a doctor.

    But when I finally see my specialists, they do an excellent job and spend an adequate amount of time with me. So I feel valued as a patient.

    The staff are rushed off their feet.

    I do understand your frustration with junior doctors though, though my frustration often lies with foreign or student doctors.

    As a rare illness patient I often get junior doctors on their practice or exam rounds. Most are so by the book, don’t listen to me when I talk from experience, and really force textbook diagnoses onto me. They speak in strong medical terms and though i consider myself intelligent with a good vocab, ive had to ask them what they mean in plain English. Often they don’t introduce themselves either, and are not personable. Their bedside manner is questionable, and this worries me for future generations. I think next time I encounter this type of treatment I’ll feed it back to the teaching doctor team.

    I really value the regular team of specialists I have because they personalize the appointment for me.

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