If it wasn’t for the long waiting times most people would actually look forward to going to see their doctor. After all, your doctor is someone who you completely trust and can reveal everything to. Even if you’re only just starting out with a new doctor who hasn’t fully earned your trust, you know that they’re legally obligated to keep everything you say confidential. Sometimes just venting and talking to someone without restraints or worrying about being judged can be in itself therapeutic and help with your healing process. Unfortunately there are nuisances that interfere with that experience and limit its quality.
The most predominant of these nuisances is facing a long waiting time. It’s been a long day or week and you’re ready to go to your doctor who you can trust and hope will be able to make you feel better only to have to wait for an hour or so in order to meet them. It’s like going out on a 2nd date with someone you see yourself really liking, only for them to be so late that the mood is ultimately and effectively killed. Now instead of being excited and eager, you’re just obligated to get this over with just because your name was called as you were making up your mind on whether or not you should just leave. There are plenty of reasons these waiting times exist. Some are acceptable and some are not. Either way, as a physician it’s your job to make patients as comfortable as possible in your office, do everything in your power to limit these waiting times, and explain to them the situation.
The leading reason here is of course financial. A doctor with a ton of student debt that has to be repaid decides to see more patients per day in order to pay off their student loans sooner. This contributes to waiting times directly and indirectly. The direct way is the one we just talked about. Instead of paying off your loans over 5 years, you decide to do it over 3 years. So instead of seeing 8 patients per day, you decide to see 15. Naturally there will be more delays, a tightly packed schedule, and probably less time spent with each patient in order to make up for the lost time. Of course with more patients there will be more delays and more scheduling problems which will also contribute to the problem. The indirect way student loans affect waiting time is by specialty selection. When you have more loans you’ll look for higher paying specialties so you can earn more in a shorter period and pay off your debt faster. This means more people will choose surgeries and urology for instance. Ultimately, less people will choose family medicine and pediatrics.
Now how many people see a family doctor or a pediatrician per year? The vast majority of people do. Every single one of us has been to a pediatrician multiple times and to a family doctor at least once every couple of years. How many people see an orthopedic surgeon in their life? Most of us, thankfully, may spend our entire lives without seeing one. Those of us who do will probably only see an orthopedic surgeon a couple of times in our entire lives, when we break a limb for instance. We’ll see them before the surgery, during, and for follow up. After that we’ll probably never see them again. So with fewer people specializing in family medicine and pediatrics there will be a higher load on these doctors because the entire population will be looking to see them.
Doctors having to leave their office in case of an emergency is definitely an acceptable reason for long waiting times. If you’re a surgeon and you’re called in because there was an accident on the highway and they need you to operate, then there’s really nothing you can do. In fact it’s your duty to go assist in the hospital. This is a reason your patients will be expected to understand, but this won’t be an everyday occurrence.
There are unacceptable reasons of course. One of these is you wasting time. If you spend too much time reading your newspaper before you start seeing patients or browsing the internet between patients, then that’s really your problem and you should look to solve it as soon as possible. Another reason is that the staff you hired are incompetent. If they mess up scheduling and delay work in the office then that’s also on you and you can’t expect your patients to understand.
If you’d like to keep your patients, then you should fix things that bother them and drive them away. At the top of these is a long waiting time. If you have too many patients at the end of your day, then you’re probably scheduling too many. It’s understandable that debt is frustrating and you want to pay it off as early as possible, but at what cost? If patients are waiting for hours in your office then they may not return and they’ll warn others about this. In time you’re going to get less and less patients, which as you can probably tell will prolong your student loans. If you have to cram in the last 4 patients you see then you should probably see 4 fewer patients each day. Seeing less patients will allow you to spend more time with each individual which will help you bond with them better. Eventually your patients will become attached to you and will keep coming back. Your reputation will also receive a boost.
Regardless of the reason of the delay, you should explain to your patients what happened. If you find yourself too embarrassed to tell them why they’ve been waiting so long, then you probably know it’s your fault and you should fix it immediately. Patients will understand if you had to leave for the hospital in an emergency or if it was a one-time thing due to an unexpected scheduling error. People are understanding and will accept your apology and explanation. You can also ask them how they think you could do better or if they have any suggestions. They might surprise you and give you a solution to your problem that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own.
If you’ve done everything in your power to limit waiting times but there are still some minor delays, then you should at least make your office a comfortable place. Make sure the chairs are comfortable. Provide some sort of entertainment. If you’re a pediatrician, then place some toys in your waiting room. Children are easily bored and might cause a fuss if they’re sitting there for an hour with their parents with nothing to do. A few toys will keep them occupied and save their parents the trouble of calming them down. You may want to have a TV in there, as well as magazines and books. If there’s a decent view outside your office then perhaps you could have as many windows as possible in the design and let in some natural light, which definitely helps the mood.
Long waiting times and bad handwriting are the two things doctors are notorious for. There are so many reasons a patient may end up waiting a long time to see you. It’s your job to make sure that these reasons are out of your hands. If you can do something about them, then you absolutely should. Always be honest with patients and explain what went wrong or why they waited so long. If you find yourself too embarrassed to do so then that’s how you know it was your fault and that the patient won’t understand. That’s when you know you should really act.
- Don't overschedule yourself, something which doctors with student loans often do.
- Maximize the comfort of your office space to make waiting times more bearable.
- Ask your patients for their opinion on how to cut waiting times.