Patients are often frustrated that they make an appointment for a certain time, they arrive on time, yet they are kept in the waiting room for too long a time before they see the doctor.
When we understand why this happens, we can take steps to change it, or make it easier to tolerate.
Like too many questions in healthcare, the answer to why we are kept in the waiting room for so long is, “follow the money.”
Doctors are paid by insurance and Medicare for every patient they see according to why they see the patient, and what procedures they perform for the patient, and (this is key) not by the amount of time they spend with the patient.
Since their goal is to maximize their income, they will schedule as many patients into their day as possible. More patients plus more procedures equals more income.
In any given day, they may not be sure what services they’ll be performing for individual patients, and some patients require more time for their services than others. Equipment may break down. An obstetrician may be delivering a baby. There may even be emergencies.
We lose our patience because we believe the time just has not been scheduled well. Understanding that it’s the volume of patients and procedures, not the time spent per patient, that comprises a doctors’ income, it’s easier to understand why they get so far behind, and why we are kept waiting.
An acceptable amount of time to wait will vary by doctor and the type of practice she runs. In general, the more specialized the doctor, the more patient you may need to be. The fewer doctors in any given specialty who practice in your geographical area, the more time you’ll have to wait, too.
If you visit an internist who consistently makes you wait an hour, that is too long. If you find a brain surgeon who makes you wait an hour, that may not be unusual.
The fair wait time will also depend on the relationship you have with your doctor. If you have been a patient for many years, and the doctor usually sees you within a few minutes, but one day that stretches to a half-hour, then you know it’s unusual. Try to be patient (so to speak).