Doctor Reputation

When Patients Ask About Wait Time

When Patients Ask About Wait Time

Going to visit a doctor can be a chore for a lot of people. It’s not like with dentists where people are simply uncomfortable or afraid, but it has more to do with the incredibly long waiting hours. This is especially true if you’re in true pain or discomfort. If you’re hurting then the last thing you want is to wait in a room full of people for over an hour in order to see your doctor. It’s also possible that if someone in the waiting room has an infectious disease that you might catch it too due to the prolonged time you stay in contact with them.

There are lots of reasons for this terrible phenomenon of long waiting hours at the doctor’s office. Some of these causes are the doctor’s fault while some are out of his or her hand. It’s the doctor’s job, however; to minimize delays as much as possible in order to make every patient’s experience a lot more comfortable and convenient. Some of the reasons include terrible scheduling, emergencies, poor workflow, and time wasted unintentionally by the doctor. So there are lots of reasons for the long waits, but as a doctor what do you say to your patients when they ask you why it took them an hour to see you?

First let’s take a look at the reasons waiting hours are too long. First of all we have the terrible scheduling. One of the main reasons this happens is economy. This isn’t really greed on the doctor’s behalf but more of a necessity that the physician wishes he or she didn’t have. Doctors graduate from medical school with a ton of loans. After graduation you start wanting to build a better life for yourself and have a stable income. This is a lot harder to do when you have a ton of debt that keeps accumulating and to which a major part of your income goes towards fulfilling. So doctors usually have to see more patients in order to bring in more money to reduce that debt as soon as possible. This is especially true for specialties such as pediatrics and primary care because their specialties bring in less money than those of let’s say plastic surgery or orthopedics who don’t have to worry about money as much. That’s why you’ll find that in these specialties the doctor wait time may be longer than others. This is pretty bad considering how you may never need to visit a surgeon in your entire life but each of us has at least visited a primary care physician and you’ll definitely need to take your children to a pediatrician. Unfortunately there isn’t much to do about this unless something can be done regarding student loans or doctors accept that it will take them longer to pay them off.

Emergencies are another reason delays happen. This only really applies if your doctor has hospital privileges and may be called in at any time for an emergency. If you’re a surgeon then you’re likely to be called in if an accident happens. Also a pediatrician will be called in to a c-section to make sure the child is okay. Of course a doctor in a practice who has partners will have them fill in for him or her, but that will take a toll on the entire practice for that day and delays will eventually happen. There are also situations where a doctor may send a patient for an investigation such as an MRI only for it to reveal a tumor. Yes, the primary doctor probably won’t be part of the treatment team but you still want them there with you holding your hand and giving you the news rather than from receiving it from a doctor you’re meeting for the first time in the hospital. Besides medical emergencies there are also personal emergencies that a doctor may have to leave their office for.

The aforementioned reasons are ones where doctors have an excuse for the long waiting hours. They’re a bit acceptable and if a patient knows about them they may not be so bothered about having to wait so long. The following reasons, however; are definitely the fault of the physician and all doctors should work towards fixing these issues in order to decrease waiting time for patients.

Poor workflow is one of the reasons patients spend a lot of time waiting at a doctor’s office. This is mostly due to the doctor’s staff being too slow or incompetent. It could also be because they’re wasting time or making scheduling errors. Now this isn’t directly the doctor’s fault, but who’s responsible for the work of the office staff and who hired them in the first place? The quality of the people working for you reflects how professional you are. As a doctor if your office staff aren’t very efficient and professional then that reflects on you and makes you seem unprofessional and inefficient. So it’s up to you to make sure they do their jobs and that they do them well. Don’t hesitate to replace poor staff members after a couple of warnings and take time during the selection process so you make sure you hire the best people at first rather than having constant turnovers.

Doctors wasting time can be another factor that results in a hectic workday where patients wait too long in order to see you. The way you waste time may be completely unintentional. For instance it might take you too long to fill in each patient’s paperwork so you might want to work on doing it faster or postponing it to the end of the day. You might lose track of time while searching the internet or taking a quick break. All of these reasons are inexcusable and you can’t expect your patients to understand them or be sympathetic. It’s your job to speed things up, not at the expense of patient time, rather than to slow things down and waste people’s time.

So how do you explain all of this to your patients? Well the best thing would be to not have to. Your optimum solution would be to eliminate or at least minimize patient waiting time so that they don’t come to you complaining and asking for an explanation. You can do this by being careful of how much time you spend on the internet or during breaks, making sure your office staff are working at maximum efficiency all the time and aren’t making too many mistakes, and of course trying to adjust your scheduling as much as possible so that you don’t have to see too many patients during a day.

What if you have no way to see fewer patients or avoid emergency calls from the hospital? You can simply tell your patients the emergency you had and that you had to go to the hospital. This doesn’t reflect poorly on you at all. In fact it shows that you’re there for your patients when they need you and they’ll understand that someone needed you more than they did so you had to go check up on them. If the problem is with scheduling then you might tell them that a lot of patients want to see you and that it’s hard to turn a patient down because it could be urgent and that they need your care. These all seem like reasonable explanations that people will understand because they might end up in a position where they need to see you urgently and they won’t want you to turn them down.

The important thing is to eliminate the inexcusable causes for long waiting times because those you can’t explain or say to patients and you can’t expect them to understand.

How do you deal with patients coming to you complaining of long waiting times?