Dear Doctors: My Time is JUST as Important as Yours Is

Chances are you have spent an exuberant amount of time in a medical office waiting room. Like the patients beside you, this is time spent checking your watch or mobile device, watching the minutes PAST your appointment time tick tock away, along with your plans for the day. Face it; the inability of many doctors to keep their appointment times is frustrating. According to the New York Times, it takes an average of 10 days for Americans to get an appointment and the average wait time when you finally get to the office is 67 minutes PAST your appointment time.

Would this be acceptable in any other profession?

For many working people, or those carrying children to the doctors office for sick or well visits – the ‘appointment,’ which the dictionary describes as “a fixed mutual agreement for a meeting; engagement” always seems subjective, at least for the patient. And interestingly, as a society, we have just seemingly accepted the fact that doctors and their staff are unable to keep appointment on track. Somehow, we forgive no matter how angry we get about waiting because they posted a sign on the wall that says, “We may run behind because we take time to truly CARE for every patient.” And while ‘caring’ for the patient is a good platform in the medical profession; most certainly don’t seem to care about your time.

This blasé attitude, taking advantage of patients by over booking, and making folks wait – many of whom are sick, in a germ infested waiting room is simply rude. And in many ways, unnecessary. Ask any medical staff insider and you will know that they purposely over book their days because they know that 1 out of every 6 patients do not show for their scheduled appointment on any given day. Even so, the over booking to accommodate for the hopeful no show also seems to undermine the amount of time it takes for a doctor to actually provide care for his or her patients. They certainly don’t mind billing insurance companies for a 45-minute medium level appointment, even though the actual time spent with the doctor was less than 20 minutes.

What if we, the patients starting doing the same? Most medical offices have policies about being late that even involve their inability to see you. Yet it’s okay for a doctor to be late seeing you simply because they have a degree hanging on their wall? Today’s patients are asked to show up 15 minutes early for paperwork, and stay sometimes an hour longer than scheduled. What if patients starting showing up late, to simply avoid their in-office wait times? Maybe doctors should start allowing us to call in ahead of time to say we are on the way so the wait time once we arrive can be shortened? Or maybe, patients should start getting discounts for their wait times.

The reality, which many medical professionals forget is that YOUR time is just as important as theirs is. You may have errands to run, a meeting at work to get back to, another appointment, kids to pick up at school. Everyone has commitments, and chances are you scheduled your appointment at a time when it would be convenient for YOU and your schedule. And yet, the doctor doesn’t seem to care. Is this some form of elitist thinking? Or is it simply overbooking and hunger for the almighty dollar that seems to drive this behavior on behalf of the medical world? Regardless, it’s rude. And we, as patients have had quite enough!

It is no more unreasonable for a doctor to expect their patients to be on time as it is for a patient to expect their doctor to be on time. Most people don’t mind waiting 5-15 minutes past their appointment time, but when you’ve been able to watch the entire episode of the latest soap opera and have 13 other commitments to fulfill before the end of day, it is only natural to get upset. Everyone’s time is valuable. And truth is, it doesn’t matter if you have nothing better to do after your doctor appointment or a to-do list a mile long. Your time with the doctor is expensive, billed accordingly, and should be honored as a commitment. Remember an appointment is a mutually agreed upon time.

Understandably, doctors have good reason to run behind from time to time. However, when it becomes a habit to constantly run behind and you become comfortable blocking out 4 hours for what should be a 60 minute ordeal, it may be time to stand up for yourself. While the unapologetic office staff behind the glass window will think nothing of just offering to reschedule your appointment and making up excuses about Dr. Wonderful is running behind even though you are fairly certain they are sipping lattes and eating donuts with the pharmaceutical rep – you may want to consider changing doctors. Its unprofessional, a sure fire sign of disrespect for others, and certainly not someone that you should trust with what’s in your best interest. And, running a business (which a doctor’s office is) being consistently late, not meeting deadlines, and breaking appointment or promises is unprofessional.

What is the longest you have had to wait for an appointment? Do you think doctors have an acceptable reason to make patients (a.k.a. customers) wait long past their mutually agreed upon meeting time? And how well would this ‘hurry up and wait’ manner of doing business work in your profession?



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