Recently, I came across the following comment on Facebook: "So how long do you wait for a doctor before it gets rude and obnoxious? I have been waiting one hour not even close to my turn!" This person brought up a great point: Why do patients often have to wait to see their physician and how long is too long? The responses were interesting, albeit a bit disturbing given the misconceptions of the causes of the delay.
One person responded, "As a teacher, can you imagine what would happen if you kept a parent waiting for an hour? So rude!" Another commented, "I don't wait like that unless it's really, really important I be seen. Try going to the receptionist and let them know you can't wait any longer and ask for another appointment. See if that makes it faster." A third stated, "I just walk out."
The wait time in my office is typically between 5 and 10 minutes. I try very hard to remain on schedule; however, several unplanned events will cause delay. For example, when a patient is late for their appointment, even if it is only by a few minutes, their tardiness can result in a delay of all appointments that follow. An even more common cause for extended wait time and delay is when a patient adds on additional medical problems not originally specified when they made their appointment. In an effort to accommodate my patients, I try to address one additional issue, but kindly explain that we only allotted a certain amount of time for their initial complaint. Nevertheless, addressing simply one additional problem undoubtedly will make me late for the next appointment. Finally, given the nature of a physician's office, there can be unforeseen medical emergencies which cause a delay.
As the Facebook conversation continued, it became evident that people are angry and fed up with delays at their physician's offices. One wrote, "That's just what they do; they just want to make us wait. Unless there is an emergency, speak up or leave. These doctors today don't care about us." Another comment was, "I sent my doctor a bill for making me wait. My time is just as valuable." Still another tried to make light of the situation by saying, "I've waited two hours for my cardiologist, and he's trying to protect me from a heart attack?"
It is important that the office staff inform the patients in the waiting room of any delay with a brief explanation. I have found that when a patient is aware of how long the wait may be, they are much more understanding. I joined the Facebook conversation and responded, "I recognize all of your frustrations. Trust me when I say that we are not in the back drinking coffee or watching TV. Ideally, doctors should see you within 30 minutes of your appointment. However, if you need to add issues or complaints, schedule a longer appointment in advance. If you are going to be late, call the office and let them know. Finally, the office should call you if they are way behind. Help us help you."
Yet, as the Facebook conversation continued, some believed that anger and confrontation was the way to deal with these situations. One commented, "I've walked out after 40 minutes, but not after making a loud obnoxious speech for the whole waiting room about how the doctor works for me, not the other way, and it is greed over customer service." Another person wrote, "These doctors are ridiculous and I find that the longer the wait the worse the staff treats you and the less time the doctor spends with the patients."
I was intrigued when another doctor weighed in. "I get anxious if I'm 15 minutes behind my schedule. I don't overbook. I get stressed from family and friends who want special treatment of a quick appointment right away. And there are really sick people who need to get in ASAP, after the schedule is set. Patients often show up late. I try to see the latecomers but this has effects on the whole day. It's not easy. It's the most important job in the world!! FYI, I also get to wait two hours to have my annual physical. I sit and wait. I don't think I'm so self-important that I need to buck the system. I don't act out in a waiting room. I wait for the cable guy, I wait for deliveries, I wait for airlines, buses and trains. I wait in traffic. If you can't wait, reschedule. If it's a recurring issue, find another practice."
The person who began the blog concluded the conversation, she wrote, "Well it was interesting to read everyone's feelings. I did wait for the doctor. She took time to talk to me after. I remembered why I keep coming back to her. But 90 minutes to wait to get into the room was a long time. Then I waited again in the room. All you hear is that things will get worse with Obamacare. I agree 30 minutes is reasonable. I know I have choices, but a good doctor should not feel they could take advantage. Thanks everyone for venting with me."
My suggestion is to do your part in helping your doctor help you. When making an appointment, discuss all of your problems and issues with the front desk so they can allot the proper amount of time and/or schedule two separate appointments. Be on time; arriving even five minutes late can disrupt the schedule for everyone else. Recognize that medical emergencies occur that can delay your scheduled appointment time. If you are waiting, the staff should inform you of the approximate wait time and give you an explanation. Remember that a doctor's office is not a restaurant; physicians care for your most important asset: your health. Be patient and understand that we are often doing our best. However, if your doctor is always late or the office staff is rude, consider finding another physician. Perhaps a Facebook friend can share a pleasant experience and help you find the perfect physician for all your health care needs.
Dr. Michael Schwartz is board certified in internal medicine with a private practice in Darien. For comments or questions, visit his website at www.drmichaelbschwartz.com