Reasons why your wait time at the doctor’s office is so long

Painful wait times at the doctor’s office.  It’s an old story with few exceptions.

As a dad, I have to deal with many of the same issues of parenting that you deal with: sleepless nights , fevers and holding my kids down for shots (my wife did it once, I think, then she promptly retired from this job).  However, waiting at the pediatrician is not something I have to do.  So, I can’t truly empathize with you on this one.

I’m not one to defend the status quo, but I’m going to go ahead and defend the status quo a little bit.

Here are some acceptable reasons why wait times are long:

Scheduling. Doctors, pediatricians specifically, are often overscheduled.  We generally come out of school with the same amount of debt as our friends who have entered more lucrative specialties.  The only way to make up some of the difference (and pay back your loans) is to see more patients.  Thus, patients are scheduled closer together.  This normally does not cause problems, but stuff happens.

Emergencies. If you have a doctor with hospital privileges (especially one who goes to deliveries), emergencies will happen.  Getting called to a C-section can ruin an entire afternoon for a busy pediatrician.  Great partners will try to pick up the slack while you are gone but it is a strain on the whole system.  What about other little emergencies?  The teenager who reveals during their well-child exam that they are depressed and suicidal.  The 6-year-old getting an MRI for headaches that turn out to have been caused by a brain tumor.  Yes, I could assign those conversations to someone else by referring to the ER or the specialist but would you want it to be your pediatrician walking you through that?

Now here are some unacceptable reasons why wait times are long:

Too much time out of room for the doctors. I heard a story once about a doctor who’s patients complained that his wait times were too long.  He in turn complained to his staff that they were too slow.  Come to find out, every morning, before he saw any patients, he sat down at his desk and read the entire paper, cover to cover.  He had patients waiting 15 minutes completely ready for him to see but was sitting in the back office.  15 minutes might not be terribly inconvenient but that 15 minutes, on a bad day, will turn into 30-45-60 minutes that could have been avoided.  Reading the paper may not be much of a temptation these days, but spending time on the computer doing other stuff is huge.  I have to make a point not to be on Facebook, Twitter and other social media during patient care time.  I do my social media and blogging before patients arrive and at lunch.

Poor workflow in the office. In my practice, my staff understood how important this issue was to me.  There are other ways to know if workflow is the problem but one thing is certain, if you can’t see your first patient of the day on time then there’s something wrong.

Chronic overscheduling. While I do understand the issues related to scheduling, I don’t excuse the doctor for always having a schedule such that they run behind every day.  Something can be done.

Now, you can read over this and take it however you want, but keep this in mind.  You almost always have a choice in medical care.  Unless your child needs a specialist for which there is only one in town or you live in such a rural area that there is only one provider, you have a choice.  When we make any choice, we prioritize what’s important: Someone might choose to see a doctor they love and tolerate the fact that their wait times are longer.

Ultimately, waiting anywhere is hard.  Waiting in the doctor’s office is especially hard when you have a sick child, no one slept the night before and the only appointment available was right in the middle of nap time.

I promise to keep working on those things that I can do in order to shorten your wait time.

Justin Smith is a pediatrician who blogs at DoctorJSmith.  He can be reached on Twitter @TheDocSmitty.

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