Why dentists can’t wait to see you but your family doctor makes you wait

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Pradip Rodrigues

Growing up in India, I associated a visit to the dentist with pain, hence detested it. On the other hand, a visit to our family physician was like meeting an old family friend who knew our secrets- both medical and family. He also made house calls when we were too ill to visit his dispensary.

Sick of waiting for doctors

In Canada things are a whole lot different, I look forward to visiting my dentist, but dread a visit to my family physician and I will tell you why.
The reception area of my dentist is bathed in soft yellow light, elevator music wafts through the reception area, it’s got a bit of a 5- star hotel feel to it. The minute I enter, I get a good vibe and feel wanted. Really wanted. It really doesn’t matter that they are drawn by the dental benefits. The beaming receptionist flashes me a broad smile and would even get me coffee if I needed it. All the dental staff greet me and talk to me like a friend they haven’t seen for a while. I smile so much that I forget they are about to drill holes in my teeth.
Now here’s what happens when I get to my family physician who incidentally is South Asian. The reception area is cramped, the walls are bare, there is always a bunch of patients waiting very patiently. The harried receptionist takes my Health Card without making eye contact. I don’t expect a smile, a greeting or anything. If I have made an appointment, I brace myself for a wait for upto an hour. If I walk-in I’m there for the long haul, the wait time can range anywhere from half an hour to two hours, my average wait has been over an hour. If I get get tired waiting which has happened twice before, whoever happens to be manning the reception, sometimes it is the good doctor himself will give back my Health Card. No apology offered, neither is there an explanation for a two hour wait. It’s like visiting a government-run hospital in some third world outpost.

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Third world service standards

In a third-world country, the absence of such basic courtesy and service standards are to be expected, hence easy to overlook. But here in Canada, where Canadians are reputedly known for their politeness, service standards are usually exceptional, staff everywhere smile, apologize for any inconvenience even if you’ve caused it. Such is the kind of respect you get across this land, so naturally then when you encounter third world customer service standards in the first world, it kind of jolts you and makes you wonder if rapidly changing demographics will make such service standards more common.

Reason why your dentist provides great customer service

Here’s why your dentist is friendly and the staff he employs is expected to deliver high service standards. You can visit your family physician any number of times and never see a bill which costs Health Canada hundreds and thousands of dollars. But the impression you get going by how you are treated is that he or she is doing you a favor or working for free.

Why dentists smile when they see you

When it comes to visiting your dentist, if you don’t have medical coverage through your work, tough luck, you pay hundreds of dollars for most procedures. And even when you have benefits, you may end up paying the deductible.
Naturally then, dentists need your business and customer service standards need to be high. If you have an appointment for a particular time, you will NOT have to wait, period.
I am told that while long waits with little or no explanation at your family physician’s clinic is simply to be expected, it’s noticeably worse at many South Asian doctor-run clinics. An ex-employee at one of them tells me that most of the staff working at these places are South Asian because only they would tolerate working for minimum wage with few if any benefits. You would expect well-compensated doctors to ensure good working conditions for their employees given what they know about the effects of work-related stress.

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Your family doctor doesn’t treat you like family

At one clinic, staff get just ten minutes to wolf down lunch. They are worked to the bone and are under extreme stress and at many clinics, customer service is strictly optional or not even encouraged. The ex-employee who I shall call Maya tells me that the doctors at the clinic she worked discouraged the staff from making small talk with patients. “We aren’t in the public relations business,” they were repeatedly told. She complied, after all she had to follow doctor’s orders.
In the US, where medical practices run much the way dentistry is in Canada, reception staff are expected to provide high service standards. Reception staff are expected to smile, greet and get to know their patients, doctors too are under pressure to display some soft skills.
In Canada poor service standards at hospitals and medical facilities is broadly tolerated because really governing bodies really don’t pull up medical practices for poor service or patients who are made to wait for hours with no explanation or apology.
Go to https://www.ratemds.com/on/mississauga/and simply type in your doctor’s name to see the kind of feedback he or she has received from their patients. My family physician has dozens of negative comments from patients, mostly complaints about poor service and long wait times.

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It’s time to change

If these Medical clinics were treated like say a Tim Horton’s franchise, so many patient complaints would have resulted in the franchisee losing the business. As long as your family physician hasn’t killed anyone through negligence or poor diagnosis, he or she can pretty much get away with anything. But even then he or she might get away through some technicality.
There is a reason why many doctors are against proposals to make patients pay a small fee like $ 5 or $10 to visit their physician. The number of patient visits would fall drastically and so would wait times. Half the patients there would simply pick up some over the counter medication for temperature, coughs or colds. But because visits to the doctor are ‘free’ people believe there is no harm in going to the doctor for minor ailments. A significant number of ‘patients’ are gaming the system, they need medical certificates allowing them to receive benefits and often go on stress-related medical leave. This must be especially cruel for the staff of many medical clinics run by slave driving businessmen, sorry, doctors who have no choice but to work, mercifully they aren’t expected to smile.

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  1. I am retired Family Physician.Dentist gives royal service because he makes three to four times per minute what FP make. Receptionist do not make minimum wages. I used to pay more than $20 per hour to my receptionist.Doctors are not against patient paying copayment of $5to$10 per visit.It is politicians who are afraid to introduce user’s fee for fear of losing their votes.