Doctors in Vienna

Last week I went to the doctor about a stomach problem. There was a small nasty room, there was a queue of standing people. The woman at the desk was only serving people one person at a time, and only serving them once the doctor had finished with the previous person. So we stood there for about half an hour, I was feeling reasonably dizzy due to my problems, there were old people leaning against the wall as evidently standing for 30 minutes was too much for them.

Finally I got to see the doctor, she invited me to explain my problem. As soon as I started talking, she was typing stuff into her computer from the previous patient, reading an sms, and not listening to me. So I just stopped talking (I can't stand talking to someone when I know they're not listening). A minute or two passed before she looked at me and said I need a particular test. I doubt this test will bring any benefit, given she hadn't listened to what I was saying, and I stopped talking half way through explaining my situation. But just on the off-chance it will help, I'll go anyway.

She read off a list of things I wasn't allowed to eat the night before. Basically I am only allowed to eat rice in the evening before the test. I mean, that's fair enough, if that's what the test demanded. She told me them incredibly quickly but I tried to memorize them as best I could. When I got home I immediately wrote them down, I managed to remember at least half of the things I had to avoid, I think, so that's something.

She had given me a telephone number to get an appointment. I rang it the next day, and the incredibly rude lady on the phone told me I didn't need an appointment, I should just turn up.

Today I rang to ask a question about the appointment which I was intending to go to tomorrow, the woman told me, also incredibly rudely, "well I can't just come by, I need an appointment!". So now I've got an appointment for next week. She told me another set of things I can't eat, which are quite different to the list the doctor told me. I can only eat bread and a few other things until 6pm, after which I'm not allowed to eat anything.

I mean, I've no idea if what she's told me is right. I mean assuming she's right, that means the doctor was wrong and the person who I talked to the first time (saying I didn't need an appointment) was wrong. If the doctor was right, that means the person I talked to the first time was wrong and the person I've just talked to was wrong.

I asked the woman I've just talked to if this information was available online or in printed form, but she said it wasn't. So really, next time I ring up, or when I go there, I mean it could be completely different again. I mean I think the chance of the situation being identical to what she told me (and therefore different to what the doctor or the first person told me), is pretty much close to zero.

Should I ring up multiple times, and go to multiple doctors, and average the result? Or should I go to e.g. 10 doctors, and if 5 tell me one thing and the other 5 tell me 5 other things, I should go with the thing that the most doctors have told me?

If my doctor was wrong about the test, and I take the test results to my doctor, do I trust her to be able to interpret the results correctly?

Will my doctor even listen to me?

Will I have to wait 30 minutes again standing up next time I see my doctor? (At least this one is reasonably predictable, I'd say with 90% certainty that's a yes.)

I just don't know what to do.

I don't want to criticize the country I'm living in, and seem ungrateful... Austrians I've met have been very proud of their health service. I've never really been to any other health service (apart from a private dental clinic in Macau/China which was excellent – competent, clean, one could sit down while waiting, and cheap.). But I think the quality of service, and attitude, is really very poor at the doctors I've been to. And everything takes a long time, you need appointments which take weeks to get, so you're left being ill for a month or more.

I only went to this doctor because I'm fed up with every other doctor I've been to in Austria (quite a few). When I had a problem with my toe (in-growing toe-nail), the doctor pressed it so hard (so that the oversized sharp nail was pressing into the infected oversized red flesh surrounding it), I couldn't sleep that night with all the pain (resulting in me sending a very frustrated email to my colleagues at 4am saying I wouldn't be coming in.). After many weeks of seeing me he finally referred me to a specialist who was shocked that "I'd left it so long to see him, this is badly infected and needs to be treated immediately". Also, the specialist never applied force to the toe-nail, I mean his strategy for healing it wasn't just to press it with all the force his body could muster.

If there were doctors who I could pay, who are better (e.g. don't have to stand while waiting for them), then I will find them, and pay, and use them. Obviously I'd rather have doctors for free (given that they're not free, and one pays an enormous amount of mandatory tax to have their free service available), but I mean what is money sitting on my bank account for, if not to avoid me having to put up with this sort of stuff.

I am not one to demand luxury, anyone who knows my flat must believe that, but that waiting room where I stood for 30 mins, was just one of the nastiest rooms I've been into in the last 10 years.

This article is © Adrian Smith.
It was originally published on 1 Feb 2011

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