Depending your age and where you live, this may make absolutely no sense at all. So bear with me. Do you remember the Habitrail? A collection of tubes formed to create a utopian rodent village for gerbils — or  was it hamsters? Point being, I can look to the Habitrail as a model to explain my theory that pre-appointment stress is a valid issue in the quest for more effective doctor-patient interaction.

I live in Northern Virginia in a pie-shaped area trapped by Interstate 395 to the north and Interstate 495 (the infamous “Beltway”) to the south, and a healthy chunk of urban sprawl creeping east to the Potomac River and west to shopping plazas as far as the eye can see. Our neighborhood is lovely, and the kids can walk to school. However, if you need to go anywhere by car, you should easily calculate 1/2 hour per every 5 miles of terrain … on a good day.

It isn’t hard to imagine how this might feel. Quite gerbil-in-a-tube, truthfully. Especially when you are trying to make it to a morning doctor’s appointment on time. Your car is capable of driving in excess of 110 miles per hour, but you are physically able to drive at speeds more in the range of 10 mph to 40 mph.

OK, so I can hear you saying, “Why schedule a morning appointment? That’s rush hour. Pick another time of day.” Good and valid point. However, in this area it also takes quite some time to get seen by specialists. For example, in February, I called to make an appointment for my son. The earliest available slot was June — so I took it, regardless of the time of day. Also, technically speaking, the only “good” times of day traffic wise are 10 – 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. Any other time of day is rush hour.

So, right off the top we have a predicament. To see a specialist, I have to take an appointment with a doctor who may not be any good, but has won my attention by his recognizable credentials and ability to see me in less than four months. (Note: I Google all contenders to oblivion before making my selection.) Add to this the fact that I am a rodent, in a tube, chasing another rodent’s tail — can’t you just feel the stress?!? Then factor in my “history.” As soon as this guy meets me he will form an opinion based on my “rare” diagnosis. The Scarlet R. That’s all it takes to be labeled a hypochondriac. No physical symptoms matter because perhaps I’m still just over-reacting to every little thing because of my rare experience.

But back to my point. Every form of e-communication and social media available could improve the success rate of this office visit experience. Start with the required pile of pre-appointment forms. Online — so much more appealing and effective. Every time I fill out a new patient form I’m thinking, “My handwriting is crap! What a waste of time!”

Most important is symptom reporting. If I’d had the chance to send my thoughts in advance by email or video post, this specialist may have had something more to say than, “You know, all my patients complain of fatigue.” Even more frustrating, I was my own worst enemy because during the interminable wait for him to appear, my will power was conquered by that fluffy pillow on the exam table. YES, I’m an idiot. I did. I rested … just for a minute. And, of course, he knocked/opened and caught me. There’s that Scarlet R again.

I appeal to those of you in the position to explore and improve … think about it! Email? Smart phone? Youtube? Please come up with a better way. We gerbils would greatly appreciate it.

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