3 ways patients can help reduce wait times

Before you jump all over me, I have already outlined why I think we (doctors and medical offices) are the biggest part of the wait time problem. But, patients can help. Here are 3 ways you can help avoid long wait times at the doctor’s office.

1. Don’t request peak times during the day. Every office has busier times and not as busy times throughout the day. If you don’t know when they are for your office, ask the receptionist when you check in if there is a time when the waiting room is less full. No one wants to get up and get kids ready early for an 8 a.m. visit so if you will, you probably won’t have as much of a wait. Every single parent of a school aged child wants their child to be seen after school.  We simply cannot accommodate those patients in a reasonable time during the 1.5 hours we have that a typical office is open after school times.  We can help by extending hours (and I think more offices should) but if your child is not in school please book an earlier time or expect longer waits.  Alternatively, you can drop the emphasis on perfect attendance.

2. Don’t request peak times during the week or year. If you need a sports or camp physical, it can usually be done in the spring or early summer.  If you wait until the week before school starts you’ll be thrown in the mix of all the other procrastinators who have waited until the last minute.  Even if your child isn’t school age or needing a school physical, keep this busy week in mind.  There’s no reason to come and see us for a long standing problem that week, just wait one more week and enjoy the fact that the office is quieter the first week of school.

Mondays are always busy in a pediatric office.  In addition to the standard check-ups and same day illnesses, there is a build-up of illnesses from the weekend that need to be crammed in.  Plus, stuff always seems to happen on a Monday, right?

Don’t come in on “miracle days.”  Dr. Strong (my former partner) always called the days before holidays miracle days.  The conversation usually goes something like this: “I wouldn’t normally have come in but we’re going to be getting on a (plane, cruise ship, long car ride) and I wanted to get something done sooner or try to prevent something from happening.”

There are lots of problems with this logic. First, illness does not respect your vacation.  Rhinovirus could care less if you bought trip insurance for your trip to the Caribbean.  Second, many illnesses in pediatrics are viral which means that avoiding a bad trip is more a function of bad luck than anything I can do.  So, here’s the moral: Don’t come in expecting a miracle and if you have something that can wait, wait.

3. Come ready with everything. Here are a few examples:

  • Bring your insurance card every time you come.  We took our 4-year-old to see his doctor 2 weeks ago and his insurance had been inexplicably canceled.  Things change without you knowing it.  If you have your card and we have the latest copy on file, it’s easier to get issues straightened out.
  • If you can’t bring your child, send a detailed note with your concerns so it doesn’t go like this:
    • Me: How long has this been going on?
    • Aunt June: You know, I’m not really sure … let me call mom … oh, she’s not answering … I’ll try her work number …
  • Bring a shot record to the first appointment.  There are shot records available online and they are usually accurate and up to do which is great, when they are accurate and up to date.  If they aren’t, finding shot records is a disaster.  Offices typically won’t do it the same day so you have to come back once we have them (if we ever get them).  People do shots differently (especially at 1 year and beyond) so I can’t always predict what they’ve had.

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

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