Tips for hospital waiting rooms

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Last week I had my follow up appointment at the Ear Nose and Throat Department, after my blocked ears saga.  The outcome of the visit was that I was referred for another cochlear impact assessment, of which more in another post some other time. Today’s post is about the process of waiting and queuing,

I arrived at the hospital incredibly early because parking is a nightmare.  Public transport isn’t an option.  From where I live it would mean taking two buses and one train, with a probable journey time of about two and a half hours each way.  That’s if you ever got there at all. So I reported in at the main ENT reception about thirty minutes in advance of the appointment.  This is the check-in point, which triggers the clinic knowing that you have arrived.  There’s a longish queue, quite a lot of noise and then you get to the front and the receptionist chats away merrily, apparently oblivious to the fact that many patients (I can’t be the only one) can’t hear her.  Still, with several “sorry, I didn’t hear that” and “I’m deaf, could you say that again please” we managed to get the job done.  Indeed, the young woman was so charming and friendly I felt cheered by her rather than irritated.  We laughed about how early I was and she directed me to another reception station about twenty yards away, in the area where the Ear Clinics take place.

One function of the second reception seems to be to tell you exactly where to sit.  Imagine a big U.  The reception station is in the base of the U, along with lots of chairs laid out in rows.  The consulting rooms (there are loads, it’s a big place) are in the two spokes of the U, with more chairs in the long, narrow corridors outside them.  On past visits I’ve been directed to the corridors – “to sit outside room X”- but this time the clinic receptionist said no to that.  “Just sit in this area please”, at the base of the U.  So I did.

It was packed and noisy.  I had a book with me but couldn’t concentrate on it.  There was a TV (subtitles and no sound thankfully) so I watched that for a while, on and off, to kill the time.  Gradually I became aware that the other people waiting near me were sometimes getting up and moving off purposefully, summoned by some system beyond my comprehension (speech, no doubt, but I couldn’t hear it above the hubbub).  Whilst I was still early for my appointment I wasn’t worried, but as the time of the appointment came and went I started to feel a little uneasy.  I was checked in, so they knew I was there, but what if they called and I didn’t respond?  At about twenty minutes past the time on my letter I went to the reception station again and explained the problem.  The receptionist told me to move to sit in one of the corridors.  Or I thought she did.  From long experience of not deciphering things correctly I repeated back to her what I thought she had said.  She shook her head.  No, she hadn’t said that.  I was to go to the room at the far end of one of the corridors and speak to a nurse.  I knew that room to be the nurses’ station so I went there and explained the problem once more.   A nurse headed off with my letter to see what was happening.  Then another nurse appeared, apologising profusely.  My particular clinic was running very late.

“No problem”, I said, “that’s fine.  I was just worried that I would miss my name being called.  Shall I hang about here somewhere?”  I indicated the crowded and busy corridor.  Virtually every seat was taken.

“Sit wherever you can”, she replied, touching my upper arm in a friendly way.  “I’ll come and find you when it’s your turn.”  I could have hugged her.  I found a seat and, as she passed from then on, she gave me updates.  “Just one person before you now”.  “Not long now”.  Then “OK, follow me” and off we went.  That nurse gets my gold star award for customer service.

What would be wonderful, I thought later, is one of those LED screens like they have on trains and at bus stops.  “Vera Brearey please go to Consulting Room 3”.  It would have saved all that worry.  To be fair, the hospital’s letters all say that you can take a friend or relative with you.  Indeed, when Nigel phoned them once on my behalf, they asked if I was doing that, in case I needed hearing support.  It’s good that the hospital encourages such support but independence is important too.  People need to be able to cope with the system on their own.

So perhaps an LED screen, although no doubt they cost quite a lot.  In the car on the way home I fell to musing about what else would have helped, at less cost.  Maybe a big whiteboard at the front, so if there is no reply to someone’s name being called they can write on it.  “Vera Brearey please go to Consulting Room 3”.  Then if there is still no reply they could change it to “Vera Brearey – where are you???”  (Or maybe not).

Perhaps just a big piece of cardboard, like when tour operators meet you at the airport.  A nurse could walk round the room holding it aloft.  That would work.  I started giggling as the image somehow morphed into one of those young women from the silent movies, who walked across the screen in high heels with a sign board.  No, definitely not that; I’m getting silly now.

So what are my tips for medical waiting rooms (without LED screens)?  Some of this I did and some of it I should have done.

  1. Tell the receptionist when you arrive that you are deaf and won’t hear your name called. Ask what the system is for calling the next patient.  How can they make sure you don’t miss it?
  2. Sit facing the area where staff will appear to call out names, if that’s the procedure, to maximise lip reading opportunities. (In my GP surgery lots of the chairs face the wrong way).
  3. Try not to get so engrossed in your book/magazine/TV programme that all genuine attempts to alert you meet with failure (I’m afraid I would have to plead guilty to this on other occasions).
  4. If it’s way past your appointment time, tell someone. You never know what might have gone wrong, and it’s better than sitting there worrying.
  5. Always, always, if it’s important, repeat back the instruction you think someone has given you. You could have got it completely wrong.
  6. Try to see the funny side……..

Anyone got any other ideas?




14 thoughts on “Tips for hospital waiting rooms

  1. Hi Vera…reassuring to know others experience the same worries etc as myself. Some years ago I had an appt in a specialist ear London Hospital who wonderfully gave out individual hand held bleepers to those with hearing loss on their own so when my appt came up I was alerted by the bleeper…fantastic! No one shouting at me, making me feel foolish etc. I simply handed bleeper back to reception and went for my appt!

    1. Hi Susie. That’s a fantastic idea, and probably costs a lot less than LED screens. Thanks for telling us about it. Best wishes. Vera

  2. Hi Vera

    Your latest piece is so familiar – I could have written it! I am constantly torn by the wish to be independent (managing situations any 60+ year old should be able to cope with!), and asking my partner to accompany me so that I don’t have to have to wait anxiously, keeping an eye on every movement made in the waiting areas just in case my name is called when I least expect it. It’s emotionally exhausting!

    Thank you again for your blog – I don’t feel quite so alone with my deafness.

    Jennifer B

    1. Hi Jennifer
      What a lovely thing to say. Thank you. I don’t feel quite so alone with my hearing loss when I am writing the blog posts and reading the replies, so it’s helping both of us.
      I know just what you mean about being torn between independence and practicality. I think we probably all make decisions about that constantly.
      Very best wishes

  3. Hi Vera. Thank you for sharing this. It is just like something i wrote recently, about my ‘silly deaf moments’! I have the same problems as you. I can never quite understand what I have been told – a combination of not hearing well, and the fact that everything the nurses tell me is in Spanish 😛 I also repeat back after them, to make sure I’ve understood!…The LED sign should be standard in all ENT clinics – it just makes sense!! Why nobody has thought of this I don’t know! Anyway, good to know that I’m not the only one struggling along in the waiting room! Thank you for sharing and I hope you are well. Take care. Carly

    1. Hello Carly. I’ve heard of hospitals in the UK using LED displays, but I don’t think it’s very widespread. It must be an extra challenge doing Spanish translations as well as hearing loss deciphering; you have my sympathies. Take care. Vera.

  4. Hi Vera

    I had a similar experience at BRI recently in the eye department (I’m diabetic and have had the occasional problem so I get regular check ups).

    I had a slight problem that I couldn’t hear the receptionist at the check in/reception desk as she didn’t face me so I couldn’t understand a word she said, but to her credit she was patient with the patient when I said I was hard of hearing and she took time to make sure I knew where I was going.

    The eye department has been refurbished and seems bright and airy, but there’s an issue with that in that all the surfaces, walls, ceiling floors are hard so sound bounces off them.

    All I got was an unintelligible cacophony of noise through which I couldn’t hear anything useful, like my name being called.

    Again, as you found, it was busy and noisy and there was a TV set on with subtitles, but I tried to ignore that. I’m not a fan of daytime TV.

    I make sure that I take my wife along to be my ears and my taxi to and from BRI. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on.

    Think I’ll make myself a large badge to wear.

    Good luck


    1. Vera

      Sorry I meant I couldn’t hear anything through the noise in the eye department waiting area (para 5)



    2. Hah. Daytime televison. I wouldn’t watch it normally but I was nervous and desperate for distraction. There was a programme running called Fake Britain, through which I learned how to tell the difference between fake fur (on the hoods of anoraks and cuffs of gloves) from the illegal real stuff. You never know when that might come in handy…….

  5. Well done Vera, once again you hit the nail on the head. It can be quite stressful hoping you have not missed your name being called when waiting for an appointment, especially in hospitals where the acoustics might be quite bad. It is not always possible to take someone with you to appointments. I have just done the rounds of making appointments with audiology, opticians and dentists, so will be thinking of your article when I am in the various waiting rooms. My GP now comes right into the waiting room and taps me on the shoulder, luckily he recognises me!

    1. Thanks Pat. If you know what the system is that makes a huge difference (as long as it’s a sensible system of course). The nurses at my GP surgery mainly recognise me so, when I was lost in a copy of a magazine the other week, I was rescued from missing my turn by a nurse bellowing out “VERA” and advancing towards me. Poor woman!

  6. Hello Vera.
    Once again you have hit every nail on the head! I always feel a wave of panic that I will miss my appointment wherever it is (doctor, dentist, vet …) through not hearing my name called. My husband, who is a great ‘problem solver’, suggests taking an A4 size sign with your name on and giving it to the receptionist on arrival. ( He has never suggested this before and I hadn’t thought of it either, so another star to your blog!). Might work if it doesn’t disappear under a pile of notes on the reception desk…..
    Look forward to the next episode.

    1. Great idea from your husband. Apart from anything else, it’s something WE can do rather than something THEY have to organise. Mind you, as you rightly say, they would have to remember to do something sensible with it……

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