Do TVs Belong In Doctor Waiting Rooms?

No one will argue that we all spend too much of our lives waiting. But who decided that we would be better off watching a television?
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When you walk in the front door of our hospital, my office is just a quick left turn off of the lobby. For the past 25 years, the waiting rooms and lobby for both my practice and the hospital have been peaceful settings with up-to-date magazines, thriving plants and muted colors. A few days ago I spotted a hospital workman on a ladder, pulling cables from the ceiling to a wall that had previously boasted an attractive landscape of the Texas Hill Country. Today, I wandered from the peace of my waiting area to find a cluster of people camped out on the couches and chairs in the hospital lobby, gazing worshipfully upward at a new flat screen television. As children played on the carpet, the CNN news person recounted the alleged sexual escapades of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the head of the IMF. So much for "peaceful" waiting.

When Did This Happen?

The stories and cartoons satirizing endless delays in physicians' offices are legendary and I thoroughly expect a string of comments from our readers relating their own waiting-room horror stories. No one will argue that we all spend too much of our lives waiting. But who decided that we would be better off watching a television? Did the transformation of the television from a large, clunky box to a shiny, sleek, attractive flat screen promote its invasion into our quiet zones? I haven't asked who ordered the one at our hospital, but am sure I will find out after posting this blog. Who knows, they may ask that I consider blogging for my full time job.

Regardless, I remember going to the doctor as a small child and sitting on a cool leather couch with my older brother as we anxiously waited to see who would have to get his polio shot first. I doubt that a television would have distracted me from such an apprehensive moment.

I suspect that whoever initially introduced televisions into waiting rooms was well-intentioned, but now various companies specialize in providing "educational" content to hospital and physician waiting rooms. At first glance this idea may seem noble, but their ads suggest another, not so hidden, agenda. They enthusiastically declare that "programming is delivered on a 32-inch flat panel TV offering a bright picture and great impact in the waiting room." This particular company goes on to describe the patients as occupying "a relevant captive environment offering ad recall scores twice as high as network and cable."

Welcome to the world of the "captive audience."

And these captives do not choose what content they or their children are exposed to, even if the medical facility decides not to subscribe to the corporate programming. Who sets the television channel and the volume? CNN seems benign enough until they show graphic or mature topics. It is at that point that your child might lean over and ask you for a clear definition of things you're not ready to discuss. MSNBC versus FOX -- forget it, no one will ever agree. Of course, the Disney Channel is always happy to serve up the screeching of pre-pubescent boys and girls, and the brain-numbing cartoon channel has no qualms providing flashing colors and endless noise. Balance this unsolicited exposure against the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that children under the age of two not watch any television and that screen time is limited to two hours a day after the age of two.

What to Do?

Take them out. Take them all out. That includes the four flat screens on different channels at the local restaurant. I can't find a single study that shows any legitimate health benefit to support their presence in a doctor's office, but I can think of 100 reasons to take them out.

Rather than continue with my negative rant, I have decided to take a positive approach and list some of the things you might do while waiting your turn to be seen in an old-fashioned, "television free" waiting room.

•Read something. Don't rely on the doctor for outdated magazines. Bring a book, magazine, Bible -- anything.
•Write your Christmas cards, even if it is May.
•Work on your latest project: knit, quilt or crochet.
•Write a blog supporting televisions in the waiting room so that you won't be so bored.
•Work on your complaint letter to your doctor lamenting your lengthy wait.
•Nap, but first confirm you don't snore when you nap. If you are seeing the doctor for sleep apnea, it is acceptable to snore.
•Respond to all those emails you keep meaning to answer. Texting seems acceptable, but step out of the waiting room if you must talk on your phone. Other people are not interested in where you are going to dinner -- unless it is a really terrific new restaurant.
•Make a "to do" list. We love to make lists. Doctor's offices should supply legal pads and pens just for this purpose. Yes, you can add, "find a new doctor."

Enough already -- I suspect you get the point. What do you think? TV or no TV?

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