It was the best of wait times; It was the worst of wait times

Let me regale you with a tale, a not so age-old Dickens tale: a tale of two walk-in clinics.

It was the best of wait times, it was the worst of wait times, “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” it was the epoch of near instant service, it was the epoch of waiting forever.

I found myself rundown by a chest infection in Orangeville this summer and my hostess called the Headwaters Walk-In Clinic for me. They asked for my name and ailment, and the contact telephone number where I could be reached and then she said: “We’ll call you back.”

I heard my friend say; “Well, can the doctor see her, or not?” to which she was told, “We’ll call you back.” My friend hung up the telephone with a quizzical look on her face and relayed the other side of the conversation to me. I was equally confused and wondered if we should call another clinic.

Having perplexed my poor little sick brain thinking about this, I went to lie down, and was woken in less than an hour when the telephone rang. “The doctor will see you now,” was the message. So off we went to the clinic on Lakeview Court.

It was a nicely lit reception area with just a few chairs. Four people were already there waiting.

I approached the receptionist, filled out the required forms and asked if I might be seen in the next hour or so, so that I could tell my friend when to pick me up if it would be a long wait. (I’d brought a book, and some work, and snacks, prepared for the usual.)

With a little laugh, the receptionist said: “Oh, no dear, it will be much faster than that.”

Now I was really confused. Where were the droves of sick people coughing on me with new bacteria? Was she really saying that I would be admitted within an hour?

“Is this a particularly slow day for you?” I asked, as I watched the individual I assumed was the physician on duty stroll calmly between exam rooms. (Seriously, where were the impatient faces in the waiting room? Where was the frazzled doctor?)

“Nope, this is normal.” Clearly, this lovely lady was unaccustomed to making a day of attending a walk-in clinic, uncertain as to when and whether they would have time to see you.

I press, “So how does the clinic work?”

“We call in five patients in the morning and then don’t call the next person on the list until a patient has been seen,” she said as she motioned to the list of five patients laid out in front of her. “I won’t call anyone else until a patient leaves.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Within five minutes a patient left, and the receptionist indeed picked up the telephone to call in the next person. It seemed so revolutionary, so respectful of patients’ time and a doctor’s stress level; it seemed so much like common sense!

I was in an exam room in 10 minutes, and a calm doctor saw me five minutes after that. Following his diagnosis, I asked about the clinic’s model. He concurred with my thoughts that it was better for patients and the physicians. He was happy to work in such a great environment where he wasn’t opening the exam room doors to find surly patients tired of waiting, and where he didn’t always feel behind in his work seeing patients piling up in the waiting room.

I had a prescription and was off to the drugstore within 20 minutes of arriving at the clinic.

(I have spent much more time raving about the clinic than the entire process took me.)

“It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,” but I needn’t describe the darkness of the normal walk-in clinic experience — we all know it too well.

Could health-care practitioners across the province see the “spring of hope” — that the call-ahead registration model is less stressful on physicians and their patients? Or would we continue in a “winter of despair?”

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