Why patients wait

The Pediatric Insider

© 2012 Roy Benaroch, MD

I hate it, too. I hate waiting for doctors. And I honestly don’t like to keep my patients waiting for me. My practice has a nifty electronic records system that shows me—at a glance that’s hard to ignore—just how long patients have been waiting. I don’t like keeping you waiting for me any more than you and your kids like sitting there yourselves.

So why all the wait?

There are a bunch of reasons, some of which will come across as lame excuses. Still, this is the honest, inside truth here. Believe it or not. I can’t speak for every other doctor, but I can tell you why you’ll sometimes wait before seeing me. These are the top reasons:

Sometimes a patient earlier in the morning came in late themselves. If you show up 15 minutes late, or 30 minutes late, I can’t get that time back. I very well may have been pacing around, pestering my nurses, with nothing to do. And every single patient after you is going to pay for that wasted time, because your appointment started late. In my office, we’ll ask you to reschedule if you’re over about 20 minutes late—but many of you say, that’s OK, we’ll wait. OK for you, maybe, but is it OK for the everyone after you? Time, once gone, cannot be brought back.

Sometimes a patient has a more-complex problem that just takes more time than could possibly be allotted. I have no idea what to expect in a room, and sometimes the most important health issue isn’t even mentioned until I think the encounter is already over, and I’ve got my hand on the doorknob. If that’s when you mention that your boyfriend is hitting your child, or that your teenager is doing drugs, I’m going to sit myself back down again and spend as long as I need with you. That does mean that other people will have to wait, but sometimes that’s still the right thing to do. For those of you who’ve waited because someone ahead of you needed extra time, I apologize: but I also promise that when it’s you who needs the extra time, I will be there for you.

Sometimes there really are emergencies. I know, it’s not like I’m running an ER, but sometimes genuinely very sick kids come in, or sometimes I’m needed on the phone to sort out a complex problem that just can’t wait. The problems can’t wait, but the families in the rooms end up paying the price. Again: sorry. Again: I’ll do the same for you, if you’re the one who needs me to drop everything for your child.

So what can parents do to avoid a wait?

Try to choose a doctor and practice that isn’t always behind. If you have to wait every time, it may be time to switch practices. That being said, if you never ever have to wait, either your doctor has no patients or is the kind of person who watches the clock and doesn’t let any encounters last longer than a set time. That’s not so good, either.

Make appointments 1st thing in the AM, or 1st thing after lunch. That avoids your having to pay the cumulative price for whatever happened in the appointments before yours.

Try to help your doctor stay on time. Arrive to your appointments on time, and try to focus the visit on your child’s main concerns. If you have questions about siblings, by all means ask them—by making a separate appointment for the sibling.

I don’t think I’m the worst doc in town for keeping families waiting, but I’m probably not the most on-time guy either. The bottom line for me is that I’d rather do a good, thorough job than watch the clock. For those of you I’ve kept waiting over the years, I do apologize. Hopefully, in the long run, waiting for me was worth it.

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