By Hannah Reich Berman

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a patient who, when entering a doctor’s office, hears the following words uttered by a receptionist: “Please fill these papers out, as we’re updating our system.” What that means is that for the next 20 or 30 minutes, the patient will be filling out forms. It’s never clear to me what was wrong with the old system. But lately, whenever I visit a physician’s office, I am given a pen and a clipboard with what (deceptively) appears to be one sheet of paper on it.

After handing the clipboard to me, the receptionist turns back to whatever she was doing before I got there and proceeds to ignore me. Right away I am unhappy. But it’s only when I take a seat in the waiting room that I know for sure there is trouble afoot: that is when I discover that there are multiple sheets of papers, which means multiple forms to fill out.

The last time I went to a specialist, one that I have seen annually for more than ten years, the dame behind the window handed me a clipboard and gave me the spiel about “updating the system.” When I took a seat and discovered that there were several papers, I remained optimistic. I thought that maybe there was only one form for me to complete and the papers underneath were just duplicates of the one on top, to be used later by other patients. I was wrong! So while I’m listing “maybes,” maybe I should give up on the optimism routine. It hasn’t gotten me anywhere. There were no duplicate papers there. There were six more forms below it, all supposed to be filled out by me.

I muttered something under my breath and dug in. Immediately I noticed that the form did not provide enough space for me to list the daily meds that I take. And the forms asked not only for the names of the meds, but the dosages as well. Were they kidding? I knew that they were not.

My next move was to put the clipboard and the pen down on the seat beside me, grab my handbag, and fish around for my wallet where I keep a small card that lists my daily meds and the dosages. My guess was that nobody was actually going to read what I wrote, but I followed the instructions. I listed everything. And as I scribbled, it occurred to me that it might take more time for me to complete the forms than it took to draft the Constitution for the United States. It was annoying.

Not wanting to be outwitted, I helped myself to shortcuts wherever I could. For starters, I didn’t fill in the insurance information. I didn’t think it was necessary, since I had handed my insurance cards to the receptionist, who was making photocopies of them. Once again, I was wrong. There were to be no shortcuts for me! When I completed the forms and brought them back to the receptionist, she took a quick look at my handiwork and insisted that I put the insurance information down on the paper. I told her I thought that was ridiculous, but that didn’t cut any ice with her.

So I returned to my seat and did as I was told. But I don’t believe the nonsense about system updates. That excuse is used too often to suit me. I smelled a rat; I figured that receptionist had a hidden agenda. This particular doctor never sees me on time. I have no idea if he’s on a coffee break, chatting on the phone with his wife, or looking at his investment portfolio. What I do know is that I always wait at least 30 minutes to see him. And I always complain about it. So maybe the receptionist gave me so many forms to fill out just to keep me busy.

If that was the case, she wasn’t entirely wrong–by the time I finished, more than ten minutes had passed and, although my wait time to see the doctor was essentially the same, it seemed like one third less.

I am not suspicious by nature, but I suspected some subterfuge because I provided basically the same information on every page I filled out. Maybe the office secretary’s job is to type a different heading on the top of each form to make it appear to the patient that the information is going to several different places.

Of course, my imagination might be running amok here. But why wouldn’t it? I had rushed my kishkes out to get to this appointment on time, missed my morning cup of coffee, battled with early rush-hour traffic, and then waited for a half hour. In truth, I have no one to blame but myself, because I should know better. Why did I feel the need to be on time for an appointment with a doctor who is never on time for his appointment with me? When–and why–did patients become people whose time is unimportant? And why do I bother asking myself these questions when I know I am never going to get an answer? There is no answer.

On that last visit, as I sat in the waiting room, fuming, I told myself that if I waited one minute longer I was going to pick myself up, walk over to the front desk to ask for my records, and then leave. I also told myself that he isn’t the only doctor in America and that I could find a different one, one who might have some regard for my time. But of course I didn’t do any such thing. I never do! Instead, as always, I vacillated between annoyance and resignation and reminded myself that I was there already, so I might as well stay.

I also thought about the fact that I really like this doctor and that he knows my history. I realized that all pertinent information was on my chart and that any new doctor would see it at a glance, but I continued to sit there and give myself reasons for not leaving. Like everyone else in that waiting room, I waited my turn and hoped I wouldn’t grow roots in the chair. And when my name was finally called, I was so elated that an involuntary smile spread across my face and I walked inside without a complaint.

It happens every time. The staff probably counts on the fact that a patient’s euphoria when she finally gets into the inner sanctum plays a trick on the mind by instantaneously erasing the memory of the long wait so that, as we pass through that door, we become as docile as lambs. That’s the way it is. v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.


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