When Doctor's Get Sick, Patients Should Understand

May 21, 2012
Melissa Young, MD

With my associate out, we've had to do some patient shuffling and not every patient has been accepting about our situation.

I must apologize for not posting last week. In truth, I nearly forgot this week, too. Things have been a little crazy since my associate has been out on medical leave. Well, that’s an understatement.

When I was in solo practice, it was tough doing everything on my own. But my schedule revolved around the fact that I was doing it all - seeing patients in the office and in the hospital, making phone calls, filling out forms. When I hired my associate, we built the schedule around two people. We took turns being on call, we each filled out our own forms, and called back our own patients. If one of us was going to be away, we would schedule around it.

Well, when my associate needed emergency surgery, we were unprepared. She had a full schedule, as did I. There was no way to fit them all into my schedule. I had my staff schedule some of the follow-up patients with our nurse practitioner (Thank goodness we hired her recently!) but the new patients would have to be seen by me or wait until my associate gets back. Some of these people have waited two or three months for this appointment, and I couldn’t make them all wait for another two months.

I have had my staff schedule patients before our normal business hours and during my usual time for rounds. That left phone calls for after hours. Which means that for the last few weeks, I have been leaving an hour or two later than I normally would.

Most patients have been understanding. Many have been concerned about my associate and send her get well wishes. But some have been down-right nasty. How dare we reschedule them? They have allotted this time and date, and it is my “responsibility to see all her patients during their scheduled appointment.” My staff started each call with “I am sorry for the inconvenience, but Dr. F had emergency surgery…” and they still got flack from people.

We have had to temporarily stop booking new patients. I just can’t see all of my patients, all of her patients, and tack on a few more new ones. We try to explain this - again most understand. Some snitch to their doctors, then I get the call. It’s worse if they happen to have a friend or family member who is a doctor. Their calls do not give me more hours in a day. All it does is tick me off. I apologize (I don’t know why) and tell them I hate to run patients away, but I just can’t do it. I give them names of other docs they can go to, and I tell them that if it’s not emergent, they can try again in a few weeks.

It’s been a trying time; hopefully, one that will end soon. I know someday, it may happen again. There will be illness, family members will pass away, and emergencies will come up. I can only hope that they are few and far between, and that the world around us will understand that we are human.

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