At least with a computer you can read what was wrong with the previous patient. That puts you into a strong position
What do doctors do in between patients?

Split up fights, usually.

"Don't do it, Tiffany; he's not worth it. And think what it's doing to your blood pressure."

"But I hate him. I wish he wasn't the father."

"Well then, you shouldn't have had the paternity tests done."

"Too late. I'm her father and I'm taking her home with me. And I'm going to rename her Granta."

"After you?"

"No, after the magazine. Coz that's the sort of fluid prose I want my baby to aspire to."

"Give her back, you bastard."

"But I've got to check if her hips are stable. And it's Dr Hammond to you."

"You won't hurt her, will you?"

"It is a bit uncomfortable, yes. But she won't be emotionally scarred."

"Not like having him for a father."




"Ha ha ha."

"Mr Mitchell! Go and stand behind the nit leaflets."

"What about her? She started it."

"Mrs Mitchell, get out of the square. You're doing my head in."

Come again?

Well, I suppose there may be the odd doctor who derives gratification from being in between patients, but this is likely to be completely outlawed in the new Hippocratic Oath. "In the name of Apollo, thou shalt not sandwich yourself betwixt or between patients, neither horizontally or vertically, except in the pursuance of minor surgery." (draft edition, not for publication, BMA 1997)

I meant temporally, not physically

Oh, I see. Well, the possibilities are limitless. Doctors have on average a 30-second turn-around between patients. It used to be more but in the mid-Eighties you started asking us lots of pesky questions and we had to programme the answers into a computer, which really cut down on our nose-picking time.

So that's what you do, is it?

Only if the need arises. In a good surgery (running to time, with the odd no-show), I'd hope to knock off a few pages of Tales of the City or Dave Barry's Greatest Hits in turn-around time. With 800 words per chapter, there's something incredibly satisfying in polishing off a whole story in between verrucas.

And on a bad day?

On a bad day, you play catch-up. No time to draw breath between patients. In the old days, a stressed doctor would be writing the previous patient's notes up as you walked in. So no eye contact and a bad start to the consultation. These days, they're hunched over a PC ...

So, no eye contact and a bad start to the consultation?

Well, that's progress for you. But at least, with a computer, you can read what was wrong with the previous patient. Crane your neck slightly and say, "I see Mrs Merton's liver enzymes are all over the place." This is guaranteed to make your GP sit up and pay attention. A breach of confidentiality is the death knell to a doctor's career, and puts you in a very strong bargaining position.

But surely the computer screen should be out of the patient's view?

Not at all. We young, trendy, nothing-to-hide GPs like letting patients read their records. "Look, this is what the computer says is wrong with you. It must be true." But even if you clear the previous patient's records, there's always a chance that a quick slip of the button will send you into Sister Parker's smear register. Perhaps the new Hippocratic Oath will take account of the limitations of the desktop computer. "Confidentiality is a striking-off offence, except when you press caps lock F10 by accident when leaning over for the tongue depressors."

Say you've accidentally breached confidentiality and a patient threatens to dob on you unless you hand over a binful of barbiturates. What do you do?

I'm afraid I can't answer that as it would be a breach of confidentiality.

Well, what do you do after very stressful consultations?

Some doctors launch headlong into the next very stressful consultation, conscious of the fact that they're now running two hours late and the patients are revolting. However, this risks transporting the angst from one consultation to the next. Others try "stress control techniques" to clear the emotional detritus. Relaxation, yoga, self-hypnosis, meditation, growing a beard - you name it, GPs have tried it. I know one who keeps a punch-bag in the treatment room, but less obtrusive is to squeeze one of those squidgy stress reliever thingies whilst enjoying a chocolate infusion. Failing that, you'll always find 20 Silk Cut and a packet of Clorets in doctor's secret drawer.

And what else might you find in doctor's secret drawer?

See next weekn