Having finally made it through a morning-surgery-from-hell, I was just putting the kettle on when the practice manager walked in to hand me an envelope. Hoping it was a rare effort to pay me on time, I opened it to find this correspondence was instead a patient complaint against me. Perfect timing dear manager, thank you.Today has been rubbish.
I am not going to blow my own trumpet, nor do I want to jinx things, but – I never get patient complaints. I am one of those freaks who loves the job, and as part of that is determined to deliver the best care possible and achieve optimal patient satisfaction, from my end at least.
As I started to read through the two-page essay of horror, ‘I am writing to complain about the manner of the locum doctor…’, I felt my heart race. The manager helpfully lingered to watch me read through the long list of allegations.
All my ninja powers together were unable to tackle more than two and a half of her problems
The complaint was partly about how this patient had to wait a whole eight minutes to be seen. Thank lord she did not attend this morning, I thought, or I might have been facing a GMC hearing.
My memory of the encounter returning, I recalled she had booked the appointment as an emergency and been fitted into my already over-booked surgery, the reason being described on screen as ‘unavoidable’.
As per normal etiquette, I apologised for the slight delay. It was too hot in my room apparently, so I watched her take her time to un-layer and settle in.
‘I have a list,’ she said. With crippling heart sink and internal rage, I fought off the urge to snap at her. It had been a brutal afternoon, consulting for three hours non-stop and I still had so much left to do.
I advised her that she was booked into an emergency slot and therefore I could only deal with her most important problem that day and could she kindly re-book for her other more routine issues. She wasn’t for listening.
Here, dear reader, I present you her list:
1. I need my medications
2. I have this odd lump on my arm
3. I want you to review my chronic back pain because I believe I’ve been misdiagnosed
4. I have recurrent UTIs and want to see a urologist
5. I need a jury exemption
All my ninja powers together were unable to tackle more than two and a half of her problems, leaving her with no option but to re-book. I had ten minutes, she took fifteen. I still had four other ‘emergencies’ waiting, special requests, paperwork and telephone calls to action and it was 5.20pm. I had to pick up my son from aftercare at 6pm.
So, her subsequent letter informed me that she works full time and can never get an appointment, and therefore it was her right on this day to have as much time as she needed with her doctor to address her ‘serious health concerns’. She condemned my failure to provide this as ‘despicable’ and questioned whether I should be a doctor at all.
Deflated, I wanted to call her. To say sorry that she felt my manner was not to her standard, but perhaps I came across rushed and harassed because I was rushed and harassed… and that I did not appreciate her manipulating the emergency appointment system to accommodate her work schedule. I wanted to tell her that I have the same issues trying to get an appointment with my own GP. I wanted to explain to her that as a locum GP, I had come in to the practice that day not knowing a single patient, the system, or the practice team and that this was pretty isolating. I wanted to tell her that much like herself, I also work full time and on the day in question, I was 35 minutes late picking up my son from after school care and all I wanted to do was cry.
I can’t call her, so instead I rant to you, my husband when I get home and probably a friend to be reassured that I am not a crap doctor.
As I sit here and think about my response to this patient, I do feel sad that someone felt this way because of me. I wonder if, at the end of what was a brutally busy day, my manner could have been a bit brusque?
But I cannot see what I could have done differently clinically without compromising her care, or the care of the other ‘emergencies’ waiting to be seen. I could not give her the unconditional time and attention that she wanted, without setting this standard for others.
I did try to once upon a time – and I burnt out. I’m not going there again.
Dr Punam Krishan is a GP in Glasgow