Privacy should be priority in clinics

(Leslie Walker / The Ryersonian)

(Leslie Walker / The Ryersonian)

Let’s face it, for most of us in university, our top priorities include academics, socializing and making it home to catch our favourite TV show. Personal health only really comes into that mix when it threatens our productivity.

Over the past two weeks, I noticed I was having some sort of allergic reaction on my neck. Eventually I got tired of people thinking I was covered in hickeys and called Ryerson’s medical centre to make an appointment.

Of course, they were fully booked for the week, but they suggested I visit the walk-in clinic in the Loblaws at Church and Carlton. As this is the closest one to campus, I opted to go there due to convenience.

I could immediately tell that the majority of the patients were students as soon as I walked into the waiting room, due to their age and the abundance of backpacks.

Although I didn’t know for sure if they were Ryerson students, the fact that Ryerson’s clinic recommended this as a secondary option leads me to think that this is a popular clinic for the student who needs to get something checked out as soon as possible.

So here’s the complaint. Surprisingly it isn’t going to be about waiting for over an hour to be seen, it isn’t going to be about the clinic closing earlier than its posted times and it isn’t because there was only one doctor tending to an overflow of patients.

I’m complaining because the walls were paper thin.

When the receptionist took me to one of the four examination rooms, she left the door wide open.

So there I was, sitting all alone in the room, finding myself distracted from my game of Candy Crush Saga. I could hear voices down the hall in another examination room, which had its door closed. With three patients in the other rooms, being tended to one by one before me, the walls were thin enough that I could hear the majority of every conversation that took place between doctor and patient.

Over the next half hour, I heard a girl experience her first Pap test while speaking animatedly to the doctor the whole time.

After realizing what I was overhearing, I was so taken aback that I shut out the voices and resumed my game. Soon enough I was hearing the next patient, who sounded like a very shy girl with worries about a possible sexually transmitted disease and the doctor asking her about recent sexual activity.

I felt so bad eavesdropping that I did my best to tune this one out. It was hard to remain zoned out when the doctor arrived at the room next to mine.

I knew my turn was approaching when I could very clearly hear about patient number three’s terrible heartburn, trouble breathing and bad gas. The doctor questioned her smoking habits and proceeded to write a prescription for her.

At this point I was paying full attention and was wondering what my own experience would be like. And more importantly, who might be listening in. I felt so guilty listening to such private and confidential conversations. I’ve been to my fair share of walk-in clinics throughout my life and never have I had this kind of experience.

Perhaps one’s expectations of a walk-in appointment shouldn’t be level with those of a scheduled doctor’s appointment, but I don’t think there should be sacrifices on the front of doctor-patient confidentiality.

In comparison, Ryerson’s medical centre is a lot smaller than the one at Church and Carlton and I’ve never overheard conversations there before, even with the waiting room located not even a few metres from one of the examination doors. So what I’m getting from this is that the walk-in clinic at the Loblaws cheaped out big time at the expense of our privacy.

Throughout this ordeal, I couldn’t help but hope that the girls who walked out of the other examination rooms were strangers to me. But their identities had been exposed. I heard their names when they were initially called upon by the receptionist and I saw their faces when they exited the examination rooms.

It was my turn. The doctor entered the room and our exchange was quick compared to the patients before me.

Luckily, my reason for being at the clinic was less embarrassing and since I was one of the last patients of the night, my identity and health issue would only be revealed to a few people who would over hear my appointment. Lucky me.

After waiting in the examination room, I knew that only the people in neighbouring rooms could hear my appointment, and not the people in the waiting room. But since there were so many patients and only one doctor, it was clear the doctor was rushing to get through everyone and spent as little time as possible with each patient.

What happened next really pushed the boundaries of confidentiality, if they hadn’t already been totally thrown aside.

He told me what was wrong with my neck, then stood up and opened the door, asking me to follow him out to the front where he would write a prescription.

There we are standing right beside the open door to the waiting room, still about a quarter-filled, and he proceeds to tell me about the cream he is prescribing, how to apply it and all the little details. Everyone listening in the waiting room would assume the worst, especially because the doctor failed to mention at this point that the cream was for my neck and not somewhere more embarrassing.

All in all, identities are being exposed and confidentiality isn’t being upheld. Since this is a secondary walk-in clinic for most Ryerson students, this issue is one that can’t be ignored.

The clinic isn’t somewhere I visit for a dose of gossip, and I think the majority of the people who visit the Loblaws clinic agree with me.Although I wasn’t overly embarrassed or angry in having my confidentiality at risk because my visit was pretty basic, I’m sure Pap Test Girl would rather me not knowing about her afternoon at the clinic.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 5, 2014.

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