I've spent more time than I would have liked in doctors' offices recently, and have been interested to note that virtually every single one has a sign that says, essentially, "please don't use your phone in here."
Mostly the people I've seen have complied; they spend a lot of time playing with their smart phones, but that's soundless. The people with iPods and other gizmos used earbuds.
But at one office where the waits were long, the phones came out and people used them. One lady had been in the office for multiple tests that involved lots of wait time between each procedure, and she needed to let her afternoon appointments know she might not make it. Nobody seemed to mind. The woman next to me shrugged. "What's she going to do, go out in the hall in her bathrobe?" The general feeling seemed to be when things keep you beyond your estimation, you need to let someone know.
In another office there was a call of a different type: a woman was checking in with her nanny, but the list of instructions were detailed (needlessly so, from the eyeball-rolls I saw from other patients), and the mother demanded that both of her toddlers be put on the phone so she could speak to them ("Hi darling, what are you doing? Are you going to the park with Nedia?") to the irritated glares from people in the formerly quiet waiting room.
When she hung up, an elderly man pointed silently to the no cell phone notice near the receptionist's window.
"Tough," the mommy snapped. "I've been in here for a half hour and I needed to be in touch with my kids."
There was no emergency, mom just wanted to hear her kids' voices.
So was either call appropriate? Do people use cells in their doctors' offices because the doctors are running behind, or only when they desperately need to make a call? Do doctors have legitimate reasons for banning cells (maybe they cross signals with some of the equipment?) or it it a matter of providing a quiet environment? (In which case, could we please stop blasting Ellen on the big flat screen???)
I'd love to hear from doctors and patients who have opinions about cell phone use in the waiting room.
Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).
is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).