As I was filling out my forms I would listen to established patients as they would register at the front desk and ask if the doctor was running behind. Nothing is really private in waiting rooms…everyone I am sure was listening for the reply. The receptionist whispered that the doctor was running 2 and ½ hours behind. Yikes!
Eventually I was ushered into an exam room where a Medical Assistant did her “new patient” thing and confirmed the long wait to see the doctor. The MA administered some medication to dilate my eyes for the medical evaluation and had me wait in an area where you could see (and hear) all the action. The first thing I noticed was how quickly the doctor was moving quickly between patients. He was clearly very busy…too busy as it would turn out.
The Unintended Consequences of Long Waits
I was a bit surprised at how the waiting and clear demands on the physician’s time affected me. After all I have written about physician-patient interactions for some time now. Here’s what I mean.
Beginning several days prior to my visit, I had begun making a mental list of what I wanted to discuss with this physician. I mentally checked off my “visit agenda” along with the questions I wanted to ask. I was prepared to get the most out of this visit come hell or high water. But the longer I waited, and the more tired I got just sitting there, I started eliminating agenda items and questions from my list. This guy was way too busy.
I did eventually see the doctor but by the time I finally got to talk…I had significantly narrowed down my list of questions and concerns. I didn’t want to take up anymore of this doctor’s time than I had too. I was surprised at myself – I am not normally one to so easily giving up on things I want to learn.
It occurred to me that long wait times not only have a negative impact on patient satisfaction…but they also impact the quality of care. Here’s how. The long wait caused me to limit:
- How much information I gave to the doctor in the interest of economy of time
- The number of questions I had about my upcoming procedure.
Don’t get me wrong I am not blaming the doctor for my reluctance to take up his time. What I am saying is that my experience showed me how a long wait inhibited my normally proactive health behavior to the point where it could easily had consequences beyond my satisfaction with the “office experience.” By the way, I was so turned off by this busy specialist that I am going back to my original surgeon.
Everyone recognizes that “waiting” is inevitable in most doctors offices. However, physicians that actually want to encourage patient involvement in the office would do well to go out of their way to:
- tell patients upfront when they sign in that the doctor is running behind
- acknowledge (I didn’t say apologize) long wait times when they occur
- encourage patients to fully describe the reasons for their visit, including their symptoms, and ask all their questions without feeling constrained about taking up the physician’s time. Not only will you have a more satisfied patient but you will also make a better diagnosis and encourage great patient adherence.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours?