MML Rants And Raves No. 001: Wasting Time In The Doctor’s Waiting Room

It is so common that patients have to wait long periods of time in their doctor’s waiting room to see their doctor, even when they are on time or even early for their appointments, that people have to schedule their entire day so that they have the entire morning free if they have an early morning appointment or the entire afternoon if their appointment is after 12 noon. Delays are so expected and anticipated that you feel like you won the lottery if you get to see your doctor within 15 minutes of your scheduled appointment time!

Here’s the typical scenario. The doctor’s staff schedules your appointment for 9 am on some date in the distant future – if you had anything else scheduled for that day (such as your child’s graduation from high school or a long-anticipated vacation to Bali), you immediate cancel or re-schedule those events because the next available doctor’s appointment is not for another six months. You arrive at 8:50 am on the day of your appointment, having set your alarm clock for 6 am so that you did not oversleep, and leaving your home early so that you can fight the morning rush-hour traffic and still have plenty of time for unanticipated delays. You silently stand at your doctor’s reception desk, waiting for the staff behind the counter to finish their discussion about what they did last night or last weekend, or to finish their telephone conversation while on hold with their own doctor’s office. Then, you are given multiple forms to complete (why weren’t these forms mailed to you earlier so that you could gather the requested information and make sure that the information was complete and accurate – isn’t it easier to look at your prescription bottles at home to make sure you correctly spelled the name of each medication you take and the dosage of the medication instead of trying to remember the information in your doctor’s office?).

After the necessary ten to fifteen minutes to complete the forms, you wait again at the counter for a break in the activities so that the doctor’s staff can grab your forms and instruct you to “have a seat, the doctor will be with you shortly.” “Shortly” is one of those words that mean something different to every person – but it never means the time of your scheduled appointment (you would understand a delay in the doctor being able to see you if you made a last-minute appointment late in the day and your appointment was an add-on to the doctor’s schedule, but what could possibly be the explanation for a half-hour to one hour delay in seeing your doctor if your appointment was supposed to be the first or second appointment of the day?).

As you sit in the waiting room, waiting for your appointment, you cannot help but look at the other patients seated in the waiting area, wondering how long they have been waiting and what times were their scheduled appointments (did any of them spend the night in the waiting room because they had late afternoon appointments from the day before and haven’t been seen by the doctor yet?). (You are also probably wondering what medical conditions brought these other people to your doctor today and whether they are contagious…)

As you sit and wait to be seen, your options for entertainment are limited – listen to the private conversations between the other patients and their spouses or read a well-worn magazine that may pre-date your own birth (while we’re at it, how clean could those magazines possibly be after so many sick people have handled them, and how often are the waiting room chairs cleaned or wiped-down with an antibacterial solution?).

Once your name is broadcast to the entire waiting room, indicating that you’re luckier than the others still languishing in the waiting room, you jump from your chair and head directly to your escort at the door to the inner sanctum of your doctor’s office, as if you have won an exclusive contest. Feeling refreshed and anticipating the completion of your sojourn, your  hopes and expectations are once again dashed as you are deposited into a small examination room barely larger than a coat closet. You’re told to undress (hopefully you are allowed to keep your underwear on this time) and to wait for the doctor (didn’t you hear this refrain before, about an hour ago?). Your chart (that secret set of documents all about you that you are not allowed to read or know about) is then placed in a file holder on the outside of the door to your examination room (where else but at your doctor’s office have you ever seen a file holder attached to a door?). Here, you wait another twenty minutes or longer for your doctor to appear (why weren’t you allowed to stay in the waiting room with the other patients – at least you would know that the office staff did not forget about you because they would have to walk by you when they left for the day) – perhaps it is some form of deception so that you think you “only” had to wait one hour to see your doctor (the time you spent in the waiting room after the time of your scheduled appointment) instead of the actual elapsed time between your scheduled appointment and the time your doctor makes a rushed appearance through your examination room door for the five minutes allowed to greet you (hopefully, using your correct name), asking why you are there (didn’t you state the reasons for your visit when you made the doctor’s appointment, didn’t the staff tell your doctor why you were there, didn’t the doctor take the ten seconds necessary to read the reason for your visit that you spent ten minutes writing down on the doctor’s own forms?), barely examining you, diagnosing you without letting you fully express your symptoms and concerns, and writing a prescription for some medication that you can neither pronounce nor spell without fully explaining what’s wrong with you or alternative treatments. Your doctor then exits the room as quickly as possible, disappearing into the next examination room occupied by a half-dressed winner of the waiting room lottery.

Doctors like to complain about how much of their time is wasted by ordering unnecessary medical tests because of their fear of lawsuits (if that “unnecessary medical test” timely reveals a serious treatable medical condition that your doctor did not consider because of the rushed nature of your examination, wouldn’t you want that medical test performed? Isn’t there some emotional and other benefit to you to have a medical test that comes back negative for a medical condition that you feared that you may have but your doctor did not think (but could not rule out) that you had?). And what about YOUR time and the time of your fellow patients? Has anyone done a study to determine the value of the lost time suffered by the many thousands of patients on a daily basis due to unnecessary wait times in doctors’ offices and in other medical facilities? Wouldn’t it be beneficial and interesting for a study to be done to determined how much the U.S. ecomony loses on a yearly basis due to lost time wasted in doctors’ waiting rooms?

Doctors, stop wasting our time – our time is just as valuable to us as your time is to you.

Stop doctors’ time abuse!

This entry was posted on Sunday, April 10th, 2011 at 4:14 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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