Waiting at the doctors office… 1 hr and counting

September 12, 2007 – 11:48 am

doctor medical stethoscope

My wife is about 35 weeks pregnant, so we’ve had our fair amount of doctor visits recently.

Along with doctor visits comes a large amount of time waiting…. and waiting… and waiting..

This time, I helped pass some of the time by spinning in the doctors chair.

This particular appointment was in the morning, so I knew that we would have to wait for a little while. But one hr and 15 minutes?

I’m tempted to send the medical practice a letter and invoice for the amount of time I spent sitting around. I know that our healthcare system isn’t in the best shape, but this seems excessive. Keeping a bunch of pregnant women sitting around that long is a recipe for disaster. Plus, where is the respect for the patients time? I know that they already overlap appointments, but maybe they had a lower than usual cancellation or missed appointment rate that day.

In the US, the Harvard Medical School and the Canadian Institute for Health Information determined that 31 percent of U.S. health care dollars go to administrative overhead.

There are big strides being made in automating some of the processes by companies such as Cerner, headquartered here in Kansas City, but I think we have a way to go before we will see a reduction in overhead costs.

I have friends in the medical industry and I understand there is intense pressure to see as many patients as possible, and there is always insurance companies putting pressure on fees (even though insurance companies make off with a stack full of money).

There is also significant healthcare regulation, with it being one of the most regulated industries in the US. A Cato Institute study suggests that this regulation provides benefits in the amount of $170 billion but costs the public up to $340 billion. That sure doesn’t sound like a positive ROI, but there needs to be a balance there.

There is still a sizable population in the US that is either uninsured or under-insured. No quick solution there, either.

Do I have a quick solution? Of course not, because I don’t think there is one.

Would I be willing to pay significantly more for better service, fees that would most likely not be covered by insurance? Well, I feel we are paying enough, with U.S. healthcare spending at approximately 15% of GDP, the world’s highest. I’m already paying more for a PPO vs. the HMO.

Would you pay more for better or expedited service? If so, how much, knowing that it would be on top of what you are already paying?

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  1. 13 Responses to “Waiting at the doctors office… 1 hr and counting”

  2. Dude – maybe the doctor was late to see your wife because HE/SHE WAS DELIVERING A BABY!!!!!!!

    Just a thought. It happened to us once.

    By Chris Lengquist on Sep 18, 2007

  3. In that case, then wouldn’t they send someone in? At the most, a PA or something to take a look at her, or in the least, a nurse to tell them what’s going on.

    By Tasha on Oct 23, 2008

  4. As a lead nurse in a doctor’s office, a few thoughts:

    1. If the physician spent just 15 mins/patient, that would equate to around 28-30 patients/day. How would patients and families handle 15 mins? Consider: conversation,exam, findings, discussion of findings, options, medications, new/established patient, family questions.
    2. Consider: 90 year old patient, in wheelchair, needs a procedure, can’t walk, etc: converstaion, findings, etc. Even a high risk/complicated pregnant patient…
    3. Patient shows up with unrelieved pain, vomiting, has a 10 mm kidney stone that needs to be removed…doctor has to emergently arrange surgery for that patient…conversation, etc.

    These is just a fraction of what the MD and staff have to deal with…phone calls, other MDs calling in with info/consults, patients who just show up, no appointment,with a problem.
    Drug reps should have appointments as well, not ahead of patients…but, they drop off free samples that get passed on to you. This helps many patients with cost savings, especially if the med does not work and we have to try something else.
    If we truly schedeuled according to the time patients think they should have with the MD, we might be able to see 10-12 patients a day and folks like you would have to wait weeks to get any appointment with the MD only there on certain days, etc.
    Many a night, we are in the office to 7 pm to accommodate folks who work…and we do it gladly. We have nurse visits only where the MD does not need to be present for what the patient might need. I have never said no to someone who called in with a worry or concern that needed to be seen right away. If the MD was not in the office, I would have them come by to see me, and send them to the ER if necessary. I live in Raleigh NC…a high population and growing area. Sheer numbers of people needing medical care is incredible.
    So…we on the front lines are doing our very best in most places. I would always keep patients informed of the time, what was going on with the MD, and if they needed to reschedule.
    Like they say…”Walk a mile in the other’s shoes….”.
    Thanks for writing your article..and allowing this input as well.
    Many blessings to your family!
    PS Phone triage alone could be 50-100 calls a day; I’m sure in an OB/GYN office it was more than that. MD has to be involved in most of those as well.

    By Mary Vicente on Oct 23, 2008

  5. Mary,
    Thanks for the comment.

    We all appreciate the hard work of the medical community, and having family and close friends in the industry has provided some insight into the broken system.

    I admit I don’t have a solution, and if there was an easy one, it probably would have already been implemented.

    Ultimately, it boils down to a cost and resource issue. We all want cheap insurance, but that’s at odds with the medical community providing the kind of service that they want and we have come to demand.

    By Dustin Jacobsen on Oct 23, 2008

  6. this is nothing–with the increasing number of older pts, fewer drs, and loss of jobs and insurance it could be weeks of waiting to get an appt and then hours of waiting in the office

    By sam on Oct 23, 2008

  7. Don’t even get me started on waiting rooms. We had to go to the ER while I was about 5 or 6 months pregnant. The OB’s office sent me down there when I called. I was having severe back and abdominal pain and I had kidney issues to begin with, so it was looking like I was having a really serious kidney infection. We sat in the ER waiting room for 3 hours. At the 3 hour mark a gentleman came in with an obviously broken foot. In fact he was carrying X-Rays from ANOTHER hospital. Another 2 hours went by, neither of us had been seen. By then I was in so much pain I was in tears and I was terrified it was hurting my baby. 5.5 hours later, I was seen. I sat there for ANOTHER hour waiting for the doctor to come in. He sent in a student, fine I don’t care. They did a urine sample and took some blood. I did have an infection. I was so angry.

    Second example. I was sitting in the ER early in the AM with severe abdominal pain. There were no other patients. First off I waited in the waiting room for about an hour. When I was called back all the curtains were pulled open and all the doors were open. No patients. I watched as the ER doctor had a bagel and cup of coffee, chatted with the nurses, then moseyed on into my room. It was everything I could do to keep from reaching across and strangling him. Gave me a shot of Demerol and some phenegren and then sent me home.

    By Elizabeth on Oct 23, 2008

  8. Aarrgghhhhh …. waiting in the waiting room! I sometimes feel like exploding in there. I understand the reasons that doctors may need to, “handle an emergency”, “take an extra few minutes with a really sick patient” or whatever. I get that. What I don’t get is why the freaking receptionist or whoever can’t come out to you and tell you that the doctor is running late, and we’re sorry for the delay. ANYTHING! Instead of leaving you for 30, 60, 90 minutes and only responding to you when you go to them to complain, or ask what the delay is. Then they treat you like you’re the one with the freaking problem. If anyone else ran a business like that, they’d be out of business. It’s like they don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone’s time but their own.

    By Kevin P on Oct 24, 2008

  9. I have found the OB/GYN offices are the worst for long waits. Specialists in general are a pain that way, but when I was scheduled to go in for a yearly exam I made a special point of calling before I left my office to see how the doc’s schedule was running. The staff were often a tad put off at the implication that they’re not running a smooth ship, but after some probing questions I was generally able to ascertain how late the doc was running and advise them that I would be coming in closer to THAT time rather than my appointment time. (Asking for first appointment of the day won’t even work in that case unless you’re prepared to ask if your physician had call the night before.) I have yet to find an office penalize me for that approach. My taking up room in their office getting irritated while my desk piled up served no purpose whatsoever.

    Also relevant. I have worked in the admin. side of medical offices for the last 19 years. I was not allowed to give excuses to our patients, or more importantly our physicians, and as a patient, I won’t accept them.

    By Deborah Brewer on Oct 27, 2008

  10. Hey everyone!
    I’m a 17 year old doing a research paper for a bill in my debate class. I have had to wait a whole lot in the waiting room. I have average insurance and when I go into the doctor’s room to get a check up, I hear the nurses giggling and taking up my time with “fooling around” on the job. I don’t know about you, but my parents have said to me that when I get a job, I should do my job or I might get fired. I mean sure, it gives patients a positive environment to be in, and they might be talking while they are waiting for things to be copied, but I do believe that someone should at least come in and tell me if the doctor is going to be that much late. I mean, what if I have a heart attack and the door is closed.

    If you can, please send all the information to jboiusa1@aol.com so that I have other people’s opinions, thanks!

    By Jason on Mar 24, 2009

  11. I don’t know if this will help, but you know what I do? If my wait time goes too long after my appointment, I get up and walk out, saying that I have another appointment and my time is inportant to me. And, I will even walk out of that little room, with nothing to read but the medical charts on the wall of the inner ear or something, where they pigeon hole you to wait for the doc to pop in so he can maximize his patients seen number. If enough of us get up and walk out, maybe they will schedule better.

    By Bruce Makuk on Jan 24, 2010

  12. This is very interesting. I seem to agree partially with both the sides of argument.
    True practices do look for financial aspect of their business but I doubt it is only that, I think the patient care is primary to a practioner’s work which cannot be denied.
    This is where I feel technology can play a role. The recent trend of using EHR’s by clinics is a great win-win situation not only to EHR vendors but also to a much greater extent to the physicians and the patients.
    By systematically implementing an EHR solution through a CCHIT certified vendor by following the appropriate guidelines and putting the EHR to ‘meaningful use’ will result in taking advantage of the federal incentives.
    Regarding the topic of ROI, I found a great ROI tool which is really customizable to judge the approximate price of implementing the solution.

    By Vishal on Jun 18, 2010

  13. Want to know the biggest secret that your doctors office won’t tell you? Your doctor has a meeting until 8am, but tells his staff to start patient visits at 7:30. Another doctor starts patient visits at 8am, yet routinely comes in at 9 am, because he stopped for breakfast, and then goes out at 1 for lunch. Doctors schedule conference calls and meetings “in between” patients. Not every doctor is like that, but alot are.

    By Cathy on Aug 7, 2012

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