Wednesday, March 08, 2006

How long do your patients wait?

What never ceases to amaze me is how much of the inconvenience that doctors perpetrate on patients is purely gratuitous. The patient isn’t kept waiting because the doctor has an emergency or the office schedule is over booked. The doctor keeps the patient waiting simply because he can.

I have seen many examples of this, but the most egregious happened to my husband several years ago. My husband has a long history of recurrent occipital neuralgia. He has seen a variety of specialists for this with uneven results. A neurosurgeon of our acquaintance recommended yet another neurologist, this one a specialist in neuralgias. My husband made the first appointment of the day, since he needed to get to his law office as soon as possible. When we arrived at the office, the secretary told us that the doctor was not there and she didn’t know where he was.

We proceeded to wait for almost an hour after the scheduled appointment time, my husband becoming angrier by the minute. After about 20 minutes, I stepped into the hall to investigate. Much to my surprise, I saw the doctor in the back office, flirting with one of his employees. Nonetheless, the secretary at the front desk told me that the doctor was “busy” and would be in soon.

I went back to my husband and told him what was going on and what was likely to happen. I predicted that the neurologist would come in eventually and announce that he had been detained with an emergency. That’s precisely what happened. The neurologist eventually appeared and lied without the slightest qualm. He had been in the ER for the last hour, he said, and was sorry to be late.

Why did the doctor do this? The short answer is “because he could”. Who, after all, was going to stop him? The longer explanation is that most doctors give no thought to the way they inconvenience their patients. It never even crosses their mind that a patient may have important obligations of his own. The doctor is going to be there for the next 12 hours or more, so it makes no difference whether he sees the patient at the appointed time, or at his own convenience.

For those who run an office practice, do you know how long the average patient waits to see you? Would you wait for another professional for as long as your patients wait for you? What, after all is a reasonable time to wait: 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour?

It is simply a matter of respect to be aware of how long your patients are waiting and to do everything possible to minimize that wait.


Blogger Kim said...

I hear you on this one, loud and clear.

I have a great doc, you're in within 15 minutes of your scheduled time and if you show up a little early, you might even get in a little early!

Arrogance sucks.

10:03 PM  

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