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Waiting for the Doctor, and Then Waiting Some More

Personal Perspective: How long are we supposed to wait?

© Photo by Karolina Grabowska | pexels
Source: © Photo by Karolina Grabowska | pexels

I’ll get right to the point: I had a 1:30 pm appointment with my gastroenterologist yesterday. It took months to get this appointment. One mjor survey found that average wait times for an appointment with a physician have increased significantly since it was first conducted in 2004, and since it was last conducted in 2017. In the 15 large metro markets covered by the survey, the average delay in 2022 was 26.0 days, up 8 percent from 24.1 days in 2017, and up 24 percent from 20.9 days in 2004.

I arrived at my appointment on time. When I was in the waiting room, a nurse came out after about 10 minutes to tell me the doctor was running about 10 minutes late. Okay, I thought, no big deal. After about 10 minutes more, the doctor emerged to bring me back to the exam room and take my vital signs. By that point it was 2:00 pm. I had a 3:00 pm counseling session scheduled back home, and it takes me about a half-hour to get there. The clock kept creeping forward.

At 2:20 pm, I gathered my things and opened the door to the exam room, figuring that even if the doctor came back in now, it wouldn’t be much of an appointment. I ran into one of the doctor’s staff.

“Are you done?” she asked.

“No, I haven’t even started,” I told her. “I’ve been waiting for 50 minutes. I had a 1:30 appointment.”

She looked at her watch.

“I have to go," I told her.

“You have to go to the bathroom?”

“No, I have to leave. I have a 3 pm meeting."

“Look, he’s finished, just wait another minute.”

The door to another exam room was open and I heard the doctor's voice inside. He stepped out of that room and into mine. I told him I was about to leave because I had a 3 pm meeting. He told me that he’d been busy, that he’d been in the office since 6 am and it wasn’t like he’d been out playing golf all day.

I grew contrite and apologized. He told me that I could leave if I wanted to, if I had somewhere to go. I hesitated. I communicated to him my primary complaint and we had a 10-minute discussion. He expressed concern and verbalized the course of action he intended to take. He told me once more he hadn’t been out playing golf all day and that sometimes a 15-minute appointment turns longer. I told him I was a psychotherapist and that’s why I was on a strict schedule. He told me I was fortunate my appointments were in blocks. I left a couple of minutes after 2:30 pm and walked back into my apartment at 2:56 pm.

I wasn’t thrilled by what I perceived as a bit of sarcasm from the doctor—or his lack of acknowledgment that my time is valuable, too. But I swallowed my annoyance because I appreciated all that he said he was going to take care of.

Another recent survey found that the vast majority of medical patients—85 percent—report having to wait anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes past their scheduled appointment time to actually see their doctor.

A research review found that “many studies have shown an inverse relationship between waiting time and patient satisfaction.” Additionally, “waiting time as well as consultation time are the main factors that affect patient and consumer satisfaction." Was I less satisfied with my care than I would have been if the doctor had been on time? I’m not sure, because the visit might have only lasted 10 or at the most 15 minutes anyway—and I have to admit that we did get a fair amount accomplished. He said he was going to contact the radiology department to try to move up my MRI and what do you know?: Later that evening I received a call from the head of the radiology department saying just that. The doctor said he was going to order antibiotics, and I picked them up at the pharmacy that evening.

I'm reminded of what Jarod Kintz wrote in This Book Is Not For Sale: “Patience is so valuable I'm willing to wait forever to achieve it. And while I wait, I may as well get busy being short-tempered."

Thanks for reading.


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