Monday, December 5, 2011

How Long is "Too Long" When You Are Waiting to See Your Doctor?

Few things about seeing a doctor are more frustrating than having to wait for long periods of time before you’re seen. In my mind, having to wait for 10 to 20 minutes is acceptable. If you find yourself waiting for more than 30 minutes, that’s too long. Several years ago, I myself waited over an hour and a half before I saw the doctor! Why is it that doctors make their patients wait so long? Does it have to be this way? What can you do to help?

After more than twenty years of running my own office, I have some thoughts as to why we as doctors run behind schedule at times. Let me say that running on time is something we take very seriously at Concord Foot and Ankle Clinic. I don’t like having to make people wait on me any more than they like waiting. And most days, I can proudly say, we see patients on time. But there are “those days…”

First and foremost, seeing a doctor is not like getting the oil changed in your car. We can’t always know ahead of time how long each patient will take to be treated adequately. So, reason #1 for falling behind is because a patient who we expected to have a simple visit turns out to be much more involved and takes more time than expected. An example of this would be a diabetic patient, seen for toenail care, and during the course of examination and treatment, I discover an ulceration, or a sore on the foot. Suddenly the 10 to 15 minute visit ends up taking me 45 minutes! And sadly, patients scheduled after the one needing the extra attention, end up paying the price by having to wait longer to be seen. I have found most patients are very understanding when I explain that an earlier patient during the day required extra care, causing me to run behind schedule. They seem to understand that it could just as easily be them needing the extra care the next time around.

Reason #2: We sometimes fall behind schedule in our office because one or more patients do not show up on time for their appointments. When they do show up, they invariably show up the same time as the next patient. In that case, no matter which patient I see first, the two will take longer than the allotted time for the one patient, putting me behind schedule.

Reason #3: This has to do with patients coming to the office unprepared. For new patients, we send out forms to be filled out ahead of time to streamline the process of checking them in. If they forget the forms, or bring them in not filled out, it affects how long others have to wait.

Reason #4: There are days when I perform surgery, that for a variety of reasons, my case starts late, or perhaps ends up taking longer than I had anticipated. Normally, my office schedules in a “fudge factor” following surgery to account for any delays before patients are scheduled in the office, but sometimes, the delay is more than we had planned.

Reason #5 has to do with overbooking the schedule. This is sometimes the fault of the doctor’s office, and sometimes is unavoidable due to urgent conditions that can’t wait to be treated. In the example I gave above, I was being seen for a fracture in my arm. I was being squeezed into an already full schedule. However, I had to have the fracture treated that day, not next week. And although I did not like waiting, I understood the reason for the long wait.

So what can you do to help? First, show up to your appointment on time and prepared. When you make the appointment, communicate with the scheduler all the reasons you need to be seen so that adequate time can be allotted for your visit. If it appears that the doctor is behind schedule, ask for an estimate of how long the wait will be, and if necessary, reschedule the appointment. Another great idea is to schedule your appointments for the first thing in the morning, or the first patient after lunch. If you find that a particular office is ALWAYS behind schedule, ask to speak to the office manager. Explain your displeasure in having to wait so long to be seen, and if the problem cannot be resolved, it may be time to start shopping for a new doctor.

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