Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Late Fee Is A Bit Rich

They’re a strange mob down Melbourne way. I’m not aware of this happening anywhere in New South Wales, but down in the CBD of Melbourne apparently doctors are charging their patients a penalty fee of up to $50 for being late to their appointments. Forget the Hippocratic Oath, it now seems to be the hypocritical oath as patients are slugged for keeping the doctor waiting a few minutes despite the overwhelming prevalence of doctors leaving their patients stranded in the waiting room for hours on end. And when patients do finally get to see their doctor, the consultation might last barely long enough for a prescription to be scribbled out, before they are pushed out the door to make way for the next patient. No wonder the writing on the prescription form is always so messy.

The doctors involved say that imposing the late fee is necessary to ensure efficiency. Well, it’s not efficient fro me, damnit! I realize that the doctor’s time is valuable, in fact more valuable than most. I realize that the running costs of a doctor’s practice are not cheap, and if there is a no show, it’s lost income for the business. But the fact is that with a dozen or more sick, snuffling, coughing, wheezing, aching, suffering patients all lined up in a holding pattern on a row of uncomfortable chairs reading magazines that were printed sometime before the invention of electric light, there is always another patient waiting to be seen who can be moved up a slot and fill the gap. Then when Joe Blow finally does arrive, he can be told that he lost his place in the queue and he will have to, wait for it…. Wait a bit longer. After all, if latecomers must be penalized surely that is the most appropriate punishment, and those who were on time are rewarded by being seen a little sooner.

But to charge people a fee of up to $50 is just draconian, extortionate, and downright bullying. It penalizes people who might have very good reasons for running late, and who in some cases might not even be able to afford the extra expense. And it’s arrogant in the extreme, assuming that the patient’s time is not also in anyway valuable. The rest of us might not be fancy doctors, with impressive qualifications, and expensive hobbies, but our time is valuable too. We all have busy lives that must be juggled to meet the demands of a cranky boss, clamouring kids, and bills to pay. Most of us don’t have time to spend two hours in the doctor’s waiting room, just to be told “Take two of these and it should go away”.

What would happen if we submitted a bill for our time to a doctor who held us up in the waiting room for so long that we missed picking up the kids from school, making it to the post office in time to pay that bill, and lost our job because we hadn’t been seen in the office since before morning tea? You can bet you’re bottom dollar any doctor given such a bill would laugh and say “I’m not paying that!” Well, neither am I. If doctors in this state ever start trying to do the same as the medicos in Melbourne, I will be billing them for all my time wasted in the wasteland of their waiting rooms.

I reckon at a couple of hundred dollars an hour I could become a pretty rich man, just like some of those Melbourne doctors.

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