A different perspective on wait times

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Let’s face it. No one wants to be in a doctor’s office. You’re either there with a healthy child who is bouncing off the walls and anxious about a vaccination, or you’re there with a child who is sick and just wants to be lying down, cuddling with mom or dad on the sofa. And there’s nothing worse than having long waits to see the doctor. Or is there?

Last week I was at yet another appointment when a lady walked in carrying her baby. The waiting room was nearly empty, just me, my son and another dad and his child. It was easy to overhear the entire conversation she had with the receptionist. She wanted to know what steps she needed to take to get her children’s medical records sent to another pediatrician’s office. She was tired of the long waits at this office. She explained that during her last visit she waited 45 minutes and her time was too valuable to waste. While obviously frustrated with the situation, this lady was still polite and I do not mean to be dismissive of her concerns. The receptionist handled the situation very professionally. She was polite, never defensive, apologetic and even made sure the lady had no issues with the care her children received and that she’d had ample time to discuss any concerns with the doctor. But it was what she said next that caught my attention. “There is no reason any parent should need more than 10-15 minutes with the doctor, so how do they get so far behind?” To this the receptionist had no answers, but I did. I was debating answering the question when the nurse called us back for our appointment. I’ve regretted it ever since.

That one statement told me so much about her. Her children were relatively healthy. She’d never had a doctor’s appointment with a 2-year-old and 1-year-old struggling to breathe due to pneumonia and needing breathing treatments and hospitalizations. She’d never had a doctor explain her child needed to see specialists because there may be a problem. She’d never looked in the doctor’s eyes while being told her child had a brain tumor, cancer, or chronic health issues. She never had to ask question after question about surgeries a doctor was recommending. She never had a child rushed to the emergency room and admitted to the hospital because something as simple as strep put their life in jeopardy.

I never complain about long waits at the doctor’s office. Not anymore. Instead, I am grateful to be seeing a doctor willing to spend the time necessary to correctly diagnose a child and answer questions of a concerned parent. I’m grateful for all the times a doctor has spent extra time with my child to make sure he is OK. I think of the times when a doctor has worked my son in between scheduled appointments even though it was going to mess up his or her schedule for the rest of the day. I’ve listened to the apology given by a doctor for being late because the child in front of us had stopped breathing and had to be rushed to the hospital. While sitting in the waiting room my mind isn’t on the clock, it’s thinking about the parents who needed extra time with the doctor that day and hoping their children are OK. If you are a parent who thinks there is no reason an appointment should take more than 10-15 minutes… stop and take a moment to be thankful your children are healthy.

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About Amy Peterson, mother of patient

I am a geophysicist, a wife and the mother of 3 amazing boys, Tyler, Josh and Braxton. My family is from Virginia and we have been living in Houston for a little over 2 years. Our lives were turned upside down when my oldest son was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 6. While currently stable, the tumor has left him with numerous health issues and many days it seems like our lives revolve around doctors appointments!
Posted in Patient post, Texas Children's Pediatrics

7 Responses to A different perspective on wait times

  1. Maria A Rosstll, MD says:

    I appreciate the person who wrote this…
    I apologize firsthand for the time I’ve had my patients wait..
    Some of the comments posted were supportive of doctors and others are not..
    Here’s my take on all of this:
    I wish my patients never waited however I give the same courtesy and dedication to the first patient as to the last one of the day..
    I haven’t had open insurance plans for about 17 years and I’ve been practicing about 20 now.
    My practice is one of the largest around and I’ve seen most of my patients from newborn until they turn 18 years old and still at this age they wish they hadn’t had to leave.. I am now seeing second generation families and I see clusters of families..
    What I take out of this loyalty to my practice is we must be doing something right..
    I have the utmost respect for my staff and they work very hard… We update our families of delay times if any..
    Most of the time our families don’t wait as long sometimes they do…
    I am very apologetic if I run behind and we give goodie bags full of samples or formula if we run behind to make up for some of the inconvenience of parking fees..
    Most of our families understand but you cannot please everyone all of the time..
    We have families that fly from as far as Dubai, Africa, Latin America, Saudi Arabia as well from other states and we try to accommodate everyone.
    We try hard to see the very sick kids the same day…
    I personally love my own internist and I wait up to 2-3 hours occasionally to see her and if I had to I would wait all day.. Why? Because I trust her.. Just yesterday out of the blue she called to see how my family and I were doing..
    So: what takes up our time to make us run behind??

    Well check up exams that are not just well check ups but associated illness at same visit;

    Very sick kids that take up additional time to make them feel better;

    Additional questions the parents may have regarding not the child that had the appointment but their other kids that you see as patients that are not there;

    That teenager that is scheduled to see us due to behavior issues that turns out to be suicidal ideation and that 10-15 minute visit turns into a crisis;

    Additional paperwork that needs to be filled out for that parent that didn’t anticipate deadlines from school;

    Hospital calls regarding a baby that can’t breathe or has difficulty breathing, etc;

    Days when our staff call in sick or have an emergency with their own children and we take extra time to give the rest of the staff that extra hand ;

    Days when we ourselves don’t feel so good but yet we make it to work because our patients need us;

    Days when you have to take additional time to keep up with all of the additional electronic medical record requirements that health care reform has now imposed for “quality care”;

    Explaining to families why they have to pay additional out of pocket expenses because ObamaCare has such high deductible / out of pocket expenses;

    Why they can no longer continue to see us because not everyone takes federal program plans but yet they don’t want to stop seeing you as their physician;

    Because we ask not only how the patient is doing but how everyone is doing, how parents are coping with the new baby, etc..;

    Explaining to a parent that the elevated white count is not just an infection but leukemia…;

    Giving your condolence for a family member that has passed away that you’ve known for years as you take care of that family;

    … So you see: “running on time” is not always possible because sickness or bad news does not have a predictable schedule.. We are not attorneys, or psychologists, or accountants that charge you by the hour and have a scheduled time and predictable time for your visits… We deal with lives and occasionally with sickness that leads to death..
    So again: I apologize if I’ve ever made you wait. It has not not been intentional.
    You see: if I make you wait and run behind, my family also waits longer for me to come home, I wait longer to eat and rest…
    Some people may say: Just see less patients.. Which is true . However we get reimbursed less, get paid less these days than before and this is how it works: insurance companies pay less for the most part, overhead expenses increase.. Our salaries decrease..
    We also have bills to pay…
    If most of my patients don’t mind waiting because they know they will be taken care of and treated equally whether they are white or black or Hispanic or Muslim, rich or poor, Medicaid or private insurance or self pay and cannot pay , then as long as the majority doesn’t mind and I can help you be healthier or help you know why you are sick then I will keep doing what has worked for the majority of my patients.
    So I’m sorry this has been a long post but I ask this of all of you:
    Until you have been in our shoes don’t judge, we are human and try to accommodate everyone as best as we can. The majority of us work long hours and are dedicated to our profession and to our patients and our patients are like our families since we have grown old together for many years..
    I ask that you pray for us, so that God may give us wisdom, knowledge and strength to continue doing what we are doing. Medicine is an art, a vocation.
    Pray for me as I will pray for you and your families in sickness or in health.
    I will pray for those that are impatient and just cannot understand why we run behind.
    I thank the Lord for those that are understanding..
    ….. If taking care of people was that simple…

  2. Mary Jo Cullum says:

    Bless you, Amy, you totally get it !! I am a back office medical assistant and have worked in pediatric offices for over 30 years. We work so hard to get our patients in their rooms and seen as soon as possible. We check on them every 15 min. while they are waiting to let them know the doctor will be with them as soon . Sometimes they may have to wait 30 min. but that’s because our doctors will take whatever time is needed to properly care for the patient they ‘re with, but some parents just don’t get it. After waiting 15 or 20 min. they’re out of their rooms complaining, especially the fathers. Wake up people all children are important to us not just yours !!
    Thank you for your blog and I will pray for continuing health for you and your family. God Bless.

  3. Sandra S. says:

    I agree with you 100%!!! I am happy to wait for my daughter to get the medical care that she needs. At TCH they have done a better job lately updating family on the anticipated wait times. And it’s nice to not be “rushed” out of an appointment. :)

  4. Brad S. says:

    Sorry, but I agree with the lady that wanted to switch doctors. Time is valuable for working parents and there is not much excuse for poor scheduling given today’s technology. If an appointment was made long in advance then that appointment should be given priority over drop-ins or day-before scheduling. If a child is critical then they should go to the emergency room.

    I can fully understand a 15 min wait. But a 30min wait plus another 15-20min in the exam room waiting for the doctor to arrive is unacceptable. This is the norm, not the exception. I would be even willing to be pay more to guarantee scheduling.

  5. betty says:

    Why do Doctors schedule 4 people in 15 minute intervals? Waiting due to overbooked doctors is unacceptable. Period.

  6. Sara Price says:

    Waiting once in a while? Fine. Waiting 10-15 minutes? Fine. But, when patients are waiting 45 min. to 1 hour each and every time they see the doctor that’s unacceptable. Then it’s just a matter of over scheduling for money’s sake.

  7. Michelle M. says:

    If the wait time is long (and I agree that there are good and valid reasons why a doctor may get behind; of course emergencies or urgent cases come first), then several things need to happen:
    1. The parent needs to be informed UPON CHECK-IN what the approximate wait time will be, and, if the wait time is excessive, WHY (nothing is more frustrating than sitting and waiting and not knowing why).
    If wait time is expected to be excessive, the parent needs to be offered options:
    A. Wait and see the doctor that you are scheduled to see, and know that you will have to wait.
    B. If there is another doctor in the practice that will be available to see BEFORE the scheduled doctor is available, offer that option.
    C. Offer to let the parent re-schedule the visit. This is of course only a viable option for a well-child visit, not when your child is ill.

    I once visited my child’s pediatrician, and we sat waiting for an hour past appointment time with NO explanation offered. It wasn’t until I actually went up to the front desk and asked that I was informed that the doctor had an emergency and had to go see a patient in the hospital. He wasn’t in the office, and it was unknown when he would arrive. Why on earth was I not told this up front? I immediately asked to see another doctor in the practice, and got in within 10 minutes.

    Doctors’ offices could do SO MUCH in the way of placating their customers (yes, customers – we CAN go elsewhere) and fostering good will if they would just have a little transparency and open communication. If I kept my customer waiting on the phone or in the lobby for an hour without explanation, I would be fired.

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