It just may be that the only thing worse than going to the doctor’s office is being sick. And often it’s a pretty close second. We go to the doctor to feel better, yet the actual experience of being a patient can be uncomfortable and stressful when factoring in everything from sitting endlessly in (germ-filled) waiting rooms to barely spending 10 minutes with your doctor before they rush you out.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In this era of people “disrupting” and “innovating” every industry, it’s high time our healthcare got a customer service upgrade that puts patients at ease. Here are 10 suggestions on how the doctor’s office can be way more pleasant.

1. Rethinking the waiting room

The majority of any doctor’s visit is often spent huddled outside the receptionist’s window, waiting for the nurse to call your name. But what if that time wasn’t so miserable? Imagine walking in to a waiting spa, where they change out the magazines at least once a year, you sip on complimentary cucumber water, and lounge on comfortable furniture.

2. Calming office TVs

In an ideal world, patients could vote on what shows to watch while they wait for their appointments. But there should be some basic standards to ensure peace in the waiting spa:

Banned: news channels

Patients are anxious enough without being bombarded by current events guaranteed to raise their blood pressure. This isn’t really the best time to learn all the ways the world is falling apart.

Approved: nature documentaries

But not the stressful ones where gazelles die and polar bears starve. Plant-based ones.

Banned: all movies

Because you’re invariably called to see the doctor right at the good part.

Approved: trashy daytime talk shows

They serve as a comforting reminder that, however bad you feel, it could be worse. You could be getting yelled at by Judge Judy.

3. A blanket ban on fluorescent lighting

This should really go without saying, but however ill you are, the last thing you need is a lighting scheme that makes you look 30 percent worse.

4. A kinder, gentler weigh-in

As patients, we’ve learned to accept our doctors’ obsessive need to weigh us at every opportunity, but it shouldn’t make us feel like contestants on a reality show, about to be kicked off the island. Our weight should be treated like the sex of a fetus: Don’t tell us unless we want to know. Furthermore, office policy should require nurses to issue one compliment on the patient’s outfit for every three seconds they fiddle with the little weights on the scales.

5. Perks for preferred status members

Going to the airport is one of few experiences that can rival going to the doctor’s for sheer unpleasantness. Even so, doctors could learn a thing about customer service from airlines. Specifically, isn’t it about time their offices institute elite status for frequent visitors? Managing a chronic condition is no easy feat. At the very least, frequent patients should have access to one of those first-class lounges. You know, the ones with hot towels, wide leather seats, and complimentary mimosas.

6. Standardized units of time

Few phrases in the English language are more meaningless than “The doctor will be in to see you soon” — always uttered right before you’re abandoned, shivering, in the exam room. We all understand that waiting is part of the medical experience, but we can at least ask for some honesty about it. From now on, doctor wait times should conform to some agreed-upon standards. These seem accurate:

  • “In a minute”: In 20 minutes.
  • “Shortly”: In one hour.
  • “Just as soon as they can”: Toward the end of your natural life.

These standards should be enforced like pizza delivery: It comes in the promised time or your order is free.

7. Couture gowns

Shedding your regular clothes and donning an exam gown can make anyone feel vulnerable and small. But this is largely the fault of those changing gowns, which are invariably drab. We would all feel a bit braver in some bold patterns, flattering cuts, and exciting colors. Your rear end might still be hanging out, but you would be secure in the knowledge that you are working it.

8. Stethoscope warmers

It’s 2017, people. We have Wi-Fi in our refrigerators and drones delivering our takeout. Surely we can manage to make medical instruments that don’t cause hypothermia on contact.

9. Friendlier language

Legislators and insurance companies are the masters of using sugary language to mask unpopular policies. But if they can do it, why can’t we? No one wants to take a blood “test” or undergo a pelvic “exam.” We haven’t studied! What if we fail? It would all be much less anxiety-provoking if we started calling it a blood “look-see” and pelvic “affirmation and encouragement summit.”

10. Treats

One of the surest signs you’ve reached adulthood is the moment your doctor’s office stops offering you stickers and lollipops for bravely allowing yourself to be poked and prodded. But why? Just because we’re grown-ups doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a little reward for not crying while the nurse searches for a decent vein. Our treats could be tailored for the adult market, like a piece of dark chocolate or an iTunes gift card. But if that’s too expensive, I think we can all agree that a cartoon Band-Aid of our choice would be better than nothing.


Elaine Atwell is an author, critic, and founder of The Dart. Her work has been featured on Vice, The Toast, and numerous other outlets. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.