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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Creating a 'pleasant atmosphere' benefits both sides

Rika Kayama

No matter how many years I work as a doctor, I haven't been able to come up with a solution for the waiting time at clinics. I think it's the same anywhere. In any case, my clinic receives many patients each week.

    The time our clinic can spend on one patient is, in principle, 20 minutes for the first visit and 10 minutes each time after that. Some people may be surprised that we spend so little time on consultations despite being a psychiatric clinic, but if we set a longer time for each visit, we won't be able to secure the patient's next appointment for another month. It is an agonizing choice between seeing patients as often as possible for a short period of time or seeing them for a long time per visit but not as often.

    There are times when I can't finish with one patient in this short time. If this happens, appointments with other patients get delayed. Sometimes appointments are pushed back by nearly one hour around lunchtime and in the evening.

    Since those who come to the clinic are not feeling well, either physically or mentally, sometimes waiting can wear them out. However, we can't just end a session with a patient when the scheduled time comes, like a buzzer going off after a set time. The nurses and I have meetings almost every month on how to improve this time management issue, but we haven't been able to come up with a good solution. I want the staff here to talk to the patients when they have to wait longer than usual and tell them, "I think it'll be another 20 minutes or so. Are you all right?"

    There is one thing I have noticed. When I'm worn out from seeing many patients and taking time to examine them, I often get comments from patients such as, "I'm already tired from waiting."

    I suspect that the tone of my voice when I say, "Next," to call them into my consulting room is low or the expression on my face is dark, or the lack of a considerate comment like, "I'm sorry for keeping you waiting" could cause the patients to feel even more tired.

    I will continue working on measures to reduce waiting times, of course. But until I find a good way to do that, I want to create a welcoming atmosphere in my consultation room where patients can feel at ease at least a little after the wait. To do that, we doctors and nurses need to try to avoid looking worn out from working too much or appearing irritated.

    This also applies to situations at schools, workplaces and at homes. To enable people who are tired or nervous to relax, you need to take the initiative to create a pleasant atmosphere, and to do that, it's important that you're not too tired. So, I encourage readers who are called by such titles as "doctor," "boss" or "parent," to relax and smile. I would like to try to do this, too. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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