I’ve been going to the same doctor for as long as I can remember — technically even longer than that, because my mother started seeing my pediatrician almost immediately after she found out she was pregnant with my sister and me.
Trips to Dr. Fromson’s office during my childhood were frequent, as I always seemed to be dealing with one ailment or another. Always whimsical and rarely on time, Dr. Fromson has always reminded me of a Willy Wonka-esque character (think Gene Wilder, not Johnny Depp).
His theatrics, stories and occasional song outbreaks made a nonsensically nervous child like myself feel at ease, especially when the appointment involved finger pricks or needles. And while it may be a stretch to equate Dr. Fromson’s office to that of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, the environment did evoke a rather similar charm because prizes and stickers were always involved at the end of the visit.
That being said, I am not ashamed in the slightest to admit that I still go to Dr. Fromson’s office when I’m in need of a checkup. While some might say my age should compel me to seek out a “grown-up” doctor, I intend on staying on Dr. Fromson’s patient list until my age legitimately requires me to find another health care provider.
And here’s why.
Although it was, and still is, a bit frustrating to endure the lengthy stay in the waiting area, once admitted into an exam room, Dr. Fromson has never once hurried me out. Every question or concern I’ve ever voiced has been carefully contemplated and explained without so much as one glance at the clock.
Last week, Brown University professor Michael Stein had an article published in The Washington Post titled, “When medical care is delivered in 15-minute doses, there’s not much time for caring.”
Stein delved further into this idea with a quizzical look at the carefully implemented processes doctors go through during these regimented appointments. He discussed the “opening phase” of “establish[ing] a cordial atmosphere” and “convey[ing] interest.” Because the appointment window is only 15 minutes, the timetable must be followed to a T, likening the doctor-to-patient conversation to a script that is both brief and rushed.
“The origin of the 15-minute visit is capitalistic, money tied to a clock,” Stein wrote. “Unlike the psychotherapeutic ‘hour,’ which has shrunk to 45 minutes, the length of the average primary-care visit has held steady. It remains driven by arbitrary 20th-century insurance service codes, based on diagnostic complexity, that dictate physician payment.”
Of course, it would be nonsensical to propose that doctors enact no time limit on their appointments. Depending on the patient’s personality, they could very likely end up speaking with a single individual for hours, and in reality, most doctors just don’t have that kind of time.
However, I strongly agree with Stein’s yearning for doctors to emanate as much understanding, compassion and personality into the limited time slots they have with their patients.
“A hurried, task-oriented approach doesn’t accommodate the meandering, overlapping, widening issues of patients,” he said. “It undermines kindness.”
I think back to the countless times I spent laughing at Dr. Fromson’s celebrity impressions and singing along with him to his favorite song, “Nine Million Bicycles.” His benevolence was and still is greatly appreciated, and while I realize he could never feasibly make accommodations so that I could spend hours with him, he always acted as if we had all the time in the world.
I value his character and respect his practice, for even if he is running late, he still radiates calm and genuine concern for his patients, as all good doctors should.