Is Your Doctor's Office Arthritis Friendly?by Marianna Paulson, B.Ed., B.P.E.-O.R. Patient Advocate
When you live with a chronic illness, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you spend a lot of time in the offices of doctors and other healthcare professionals, such as naturopathic doctors, massage therapists, physical therapists, and counselors. Unfortunately, not every office is arthritis-friendly. With a wave of my magic wand, I'd improve the patient experience in a number of different areas. These are aspects that you, as a patient, should seek in your doctor’s office to improve the experience. Don’t be afraid to give them a friendly nudge with tips for improvement — they may just not know how tough it is for you as the patient.
Many healthcare professionals now offer different ways to book appointments. When it is available, I prefer to use an online booking system. The beauty of that system is that you can opt to get a text or email reminder prior to your appointment. Not only is it convenient, but it also saves me a lot of frustration. I have hearing loss and sometimes struggle to decipher what is being said over the phone. By having a variety of booking options available, patients can choose the one that best suits them, even if they don't have hearing loss. Book your appointments for the next few months, which allows you to pick the days/times that are convenient for you.
The receptionist can set the tone for the visit. People are generally not at their best when they pay a visit to a healthcare professional. A kind, friendly, helpful manner during check-in can help put the patient at ease. Good communication skills include making eye contact with the patient while speaking with them in a clear voice. Phone messages should be clearly spoken. The phone number should be left at the beginning and the end of the message, along with the name of the healthcare professional.
People who are unwell are often bothered by excessive noise, glaring light, or uncomfortable room temperatures. While there is a trend to equip every waiting room with TVs, they do nothing to enhance the office visit, often contributing more auditory and visual “noise.” RA patients spend a lot of time in waiting rooms. Soothing color schemes, and a clean, clutter-free office can provide a comforting environment, and help to ease the stress.
Enforce a policy that requires people to take their cell phone conversations outside of the office. Since people usually speak louder on their phones, it disturbs the other patients. Furthermore, people tend to listen more to one-sided cell phone conversations, than they do to those carried out between two people. As they try to figure out the other side of the conversation, it becomes a distraction and an annoyance for those who are waiting. RA patients are already over-tired and often in pain. Excessive office noise is stressful. It can also make it difficult to think about the things one wishes to discuss with the practitioner.
Doors and floors
As much as you would expect a fully accessible venue, that is not always the case. Elevator access ensures that patients with differing levels of mobility can actually enter the office. While not every office comes with an automatic door, it should, at the very least, come with lever type door handles. A doorbell could let the receptionist know that help is needed with the door. Signage should be large, clear, and include braille.
I feel like an unsatisfied Goldilocks when I go to my medical appointments. Rarely do I find a chair that is just right! Wouldn't it be nice to have seats of varying heights to accommodate patients who struggle with too-low seating? At the very least, a chair cushion can enable someone who is flaring to get up a little easier. Is it asking too much to provide some footstools? Is there a spot to park a wheelchair? Specialists need to address the varying needs of their patients.
A couple of my doctors had offices in a medical building, where the restrooms were shared by multiple offices and kept locked. These presented a problem for people with limited hand strength and coordination, as the key was hard to grip and the door was exceptionally heavy. A key turner would have made things much easier. An even better option would be to have an automatic restroom door.
About those prescriptions
I was fortunate because I had a rheumatologist who did not require me to come in every time I needed a prescription filled, particularly if I was doing OK and my lab work was good. Many arthritis patients have suppressed immune systems due to their treatment, so why ask an already over-tired and susceptible patient to come in to renew a prescription if no changes are necessary? A phone consult or prescription renewal can keep the patient healthy and happy.
If you see something that could be improved, speak up. Remember, you're not only advocating for yourself, but also other patients who may be struggling with the same challenges. You could start by completing a patient survey, if it is offered. Also, inform the office manager, or speak directly to your healthcare professional. Say: “It would be helpful if [list your request with a reason why].” Be reasonable with your requests.