Overheard: Waiting at the doctor's office
August 10th, 2012
02:21 PM ET

Overheard: Waiting at the doctor's office

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

CNN contributor Dr. Anthony Youn hit a nerve with his recent post, "Long wait at the doctor's office? Blame the patients." Youn describes three common scenarios in which patients can cause a doctor to run behind schedule: the patient being late themselves, medical emergencies and then what Youn calls, "Oh, by the ways..." in which a patient brings up a complex medical issue at the end of an appointment.

Many doctors and medical professionals weighed in, supporting Youn. They said doctors should take the time they need to provide proper care - even if it means pushing back a few appointments. A few added their own reasons why doctors can run late.

Every day I have at LEAST one patient make me late for the next. Patients show up late, early, wrong day, etc. My treatment time will vary based on how well or poorly the person is doing that day - their emotional status, talkativity, etc. Health care is far more complex than most people realize.

The "oh by the way" is the bane of a physician's existence! That alone can add 30 minutes to a visit. And once you are behind a half hour, then you are behind a half hour for the rest of the day!

I work at a large hospital and there are days where up to 50% of our patients do not show up for their appointments. We therefore double book many appointment slots. We have people who have failed [to make] dozens of appointments and still just call for another. Either they do not realize they are contributing to the problem as well as taking up valuable appointment times or they just do not care.

As a busy physician I can tell you that a big reason that patients end up waiting in doctors' offices has to do with the fact that there is a physician shortage in this country and it is only going to get worse moving forward.

Another point I'd make is that many of us (myself included) are salaried. I don't get extra money by seeing more patients or by doing more procedures. And if I'm running late, I will have to stay until 6, 7 or 8 p.m. finishing my notes. I'd MUCH rather be on time.

Yes, we may be late, but when I've got a scheduled 30 minute appointment with 45-year-old mother of two and I have to tell her (and her husband) that she's got stage IV lung cancer with brain, liver and bone metastasis ... that she'll likely be dead within 3 months regardless, that her children will grow up without a mother, that she's unlikely to get adequate hospice care because she doesn't have comprehensive enough health insurance and she has a (understandable) breakdown in my office ... Will you still think I'm rude for being late?

Patients responded as well, saying that being late is simply rude - especially if it's due to overbooking, other patients' lateness or inefficient staff.

My doctor used to do some double booking, just like the airlines, to defend against no-shows. Long wait times were business as usual, both in the waiting room and in the treatment rooms, until she lost a few patients because of it. The best advice this doc gave in this article was to find another doctor if you're badly treated. It made my doctor clean up her act.

Patients who are late should go to the back of the line. Period.

Doctors should have some time set aside for patients who are actually sick. I called my (former) doctor when I awakened with eyes swollen shut from poison ivy. The desk told me he had no appointments for a week. I had to go to the emergency room instead. If a doctor cannot see you when you are sick, what the devil is the use of having a doctor?

I once sat in an exam room in a thin gown for two hours while I listened to the doctor say she was going to lunch. Then I heard her come back and gossip for another 30 minutes. I was on my way out the door when she finally came in to see me. She just couldn't understand why I was so upset.

If the doctor's office is running an hour or two behind schedule, a courtesy call to the scheduled patient would go a long way to resolve the issue. It's no-brainer stuff like this that makes me wonder about the medical profession's professionalism.

Other patients chimed in asking us all to be a bit more, well, patient.

I no longer arrive at my primary care doctor's office on time for an appointment. There is no need to because he always runs about an hour late. I wouldn't have it any other way. He listens to what you say (and many times, I believe, to what you don't say) before making his diagnosis. He care about his patients, and this is what matters.

Eric Slyter
I think the best remedy for the problem is simple: patients need more patience, and physicians need an equal amount of understanding, as long as their work ethic is already strong. Sometimes, lines just can't be avoided. Plain and simple.

I am not going to moan and groan if I have to wait - that is the price you pay to see a medical professional. Bring a book, and sit back and relax, and be thankful you can even be in a waiting room waiting to see a doctor. A lot of people do not have that luxury.

The issue in medicine today is that patients see themselves as consumers of a service and, as paying customers, feel like they can demand what they feel they have paid for and are entitled to receive. Which is all fine and good, except that medicine is inexact and messy. And you share your caregivers with other customers demanding the same thing for themselves. Doctors are way underpaid for what they deal with from their "customers."

My OBGYN is a specialist and after four miscarriages I don't want to see anyone else. I'm more than happy to wait while he's behind because he likes to be in all his patients' deliveries if he can. He also takes a lot of time with each person and treats you like you are the only person having problems. He never rushes you out or makes you feel like a burden. I'd sit all day and wait for service like that.

Do you think your doctor needs to step up his or her game when it comes to running behind schedule? Has your doctor's office added incentives or penalties for patients to be on time? Or are you content to sit and wait if your physician is helping out someone else? Tell us in the comments below.

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