Hitting a Nerve

Impatient patients



Patients are often impatient. They want answers.

To some extent, I can’t blame them. When it’s your disease, you want to know what’s going on and what you can do about it. So I try to keep on top of results as they come in and have my staff contact people to relay the news.

The problem is that medicine (like life) does not provide immediate gratification. It takes time to get routine labs back, and some (such as send-outs) can even take a few weeks.

Radiology reports usually have a 24-hour turnaround, and radiologists will call me if they find something urgent. Yet, it’s amazing how many people will call for results before they even leave that facility.

Did it always used to be like this? Were people always this demanding of immediate answers and test results from their doctors?

We live in a world that gets faster and faster, and people get used to things happening quickly. It’s an age of instant gratification, and having to wait for test results seems silly to laypeople. After all, don’t TV medical shows have results coming back quickly, gleaming advanced scanners, and the machine that goes “ping”? So why doesn’t that happen when you visit a doctor in real life?

Of course, I could get the results faster. I could order everything STAT and abuse the privilege ... but crying wolf only works a few times, and then you can’t do it when you really need it. I could call the radiologists for verbal MRI reads ... but then I’m taking their time away from more urgent cases, and other patients with more concerning issues are affected. So I don’t do that routinely, either.

Even people in slow-moving lines of work can have trouble grasping that medicine is the same way. I tell them we’ll call them when we get results, and try to stay on top of things. I admit sometimes things may slip through, and they’re right to call and ask.

Most patients understand this, and are, well, patient. I just wish more were. It would save a lot of time, effort, and frustration for all involved, including them.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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