Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What Doctors Might Learn from Lawyers

Yesterday I took my preschool children to the doctor, and I was reminded of why I do not like doctors. It's not the pain, or the cost. It's the wait. It is bad enough when you have to wait and wait and wait as an adult, reading year-old magazines in the waiting room--but add bored kids bouncing off the walls and it becomes an intensely excruciating experience.

We waited for two hours. Two! And, of course, when we finally saw the doctor he was all happy and simply said, "Thanks for waiting!" Like I had a choice. It was my children's health on the line, that's all, so what could I do? Walk out?

As my father is fond of saying, there are only two professions in the western world in which the customer is told, "I can help you, but I don't know how long it will take, and I don't know how much it will cost." Those two professions, of course, are law and medicine. Possibly accountants too. Try running an ordinary business on that model and you will be out on the street in no time. Yet doctors and lawyers get away with it--although increasingly there are both time and cost pressures, and in the field of law there is a long overdue movement to flat rate billing.

But as frustrating as lawyers are for their clients, lawyers generally cannot leave their clients sitting for two hours waiting for a scheduled meeting. If lawyers do that, they will (and should) lose their clients and be out on the street. So perhaps lawyers have some moral advantage over doctors. Although doctors do not typically charge by the hour, so perhaps not.

In either case, one thing is for certain: for the next kiddie doctor appointment, it's my wife's turn.


MrSpkr said...

How would flat rate billing work in a field such as civil litigation? I mean, I can see it for certain services such as patent work, uncontested divorces, adjustments of child support payments, drafting wills, probating uncontested wills, etc.; but just can't see how feasible such a system would be for any work of an adversarial nature.

Gregory W. Bowman said...

Good question. Check out my separate post answering your question ("How Law Firms Bill"). Thanks, Greg

biff said...

Interestingly these are also two professions where you need a license to practice. Because of the presence of AMA and the state bars, doctors and lawyers do not respond to market forces in the way solo practitioners in other fields do. This is why I think it makes so much sense to be a solo as a lawyer or doctor, and why consumers suffer.

Gregory W. Bowman said...

Thanks for your interesting comment. Lawyers and doctors do enjoy a legal monopoly on practice, which does insulate them somewhat. There are a number of previous posts on this blog on that very subject.

But why do you think that means being a solo practitioner is better? I'd be interested in hearing more of your thoughts on that point.

biff said...

I'm just saying that b/c of the inherent advantages in law and medicine, being a solo doctor or lawyer makes more sense than being a solo, say, accoutant.

But it's debatable whether being a solo lawyer is "better" than being a firm lawyer. It depends on your values I suppose.

g. philip schrader, iv said...

aside from the flat-fee billing debate, i would submit to you that the unduly burdensome wait at the doctor's office may have something to do with another profession that i would affirmativley attribute to the rising costs of medical malpractice insurance, health insurance, and health care in general....the evil pharmaceutical sales representative.

regards and have a great summer!