Patients can ask for discounts if the doctor is running late

Should doctors face consequences if they run late?

From the New York Times’ health blog, Well, comes a story where a medical group promises, “same-day appointments and longer, more personalized visits that start on time.”

Sounds good, right?

But it comes with a caveat, namely, a $199 annual membership fee. A tremendous amount of primary care can be bought with that amount of money, and if patients were willing to pay that, service will most definitely improve.

For one, doctors will be under less pressure to make financial ends meet, thus stopping the pressure to double book appointment slots.

Failing that, it’s said that patients can ask their doctors who run late for a discount. It can’t hurt, but can run afoul of the insurance companies:

If you have private insurance, whether your doctor would be allowed to waive a co-pay or other patient costs depends on the insurance policy. Often the insurer would have to give permission, according to a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an association representing insurers.

Then, the doctors have to agree to give you the discount. The ones I spoke with said a discount, if any, would depend on a number of variables including the practice’s philosophy toward discounts, the region and the particular treatment.

One thing I’ve learned from reading the various patient experiences on this blog: respect the time of your patients. Under normal circumstances, there is no reason why they should wait more than 15 minutes in the waiting room. If that is happening repeatedly, it’s a sign that you’re overloading your schedule.

In some cases, however, there’s little incentive for doctors to change:

If you’re mid-treatment for cancer or another life-threatening disease, it’s hard to start over with a new physician. And if there are only a few specialists for a particular disorder (or only one in your area), doctors can treat you as shabbily as they’d like. You can suck it up and deal with it or you can drive hours out of your way. But you need the doctors more than the doctors need you in this instance.

And if that doctor is repeatedly late and turning patients’ appointments into an all-day affair, that’s an unfortunate shame that has little recourse for correction.

 is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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