waiting for a doctor

Waiting for a Doctor? Tips & Insights for a Better Patient Experience

A patient's complication recently led to an hour-long delay in my office schedule as they needed additional care and attention. Understandably, this upset some patients waiting and created a challenge for my team. Waiting for a doctor or surgeon can sometimes be a frustrating experience. 

As a surgeon, I realize that time spent in the waiting room can often test our patience. A study done in 2018 found that the average waiting room time is about 18 minutes. In this blog, I want to offer you valuable tips and insights for a better patient experience while you're in the waiting room. These can help reduce your stress and frustration and ensure a smoother and better experience at your doctor's appointment.

Waiting for a Doctor?

It's not uncommon for delays to occur, but when they do, they aren't without reason. The waiting room can be a stressful place for both patients and doctors. Doctors can get delayed for a number of reasons, which can extend your time in the waiting room longer than expected. 

As a surgeon, some of the reasons for delays may not be the same as when you're waiting for your family doctor. Perhaps you are seeing a doctor who also delivers babies, and they might be called out for a birth, or if your doctor does any hospital or trauma care, they may be called out for any number of emergencies. Below, we'll look at some of the more common reasons for delays while waiting for a doctor.

Waiting for a doctor in the waitng room

Common Reasons for Delays

  • Emergent cases. At times, patients needing urgent or immediate medical attention can disrupt schedules and lead to delays in subsequent appointments to run behind. 
  • Cases are taking longer than expected. Appointments are scheduled according to the concern or issue the patient mentions on the phone when scheduling. However, if the patient's condition or issue turns out to be more complex or extensive than initially thought, it may require a longer appointment. This unexpected longer appointment can lead to a backup or delay the doctor's schedule. 
  • Inaccurate description of patient's condition when scheduling. It's essential to clearly and accurately describe why you want to see the doctor. Patients may feel embarrassed to say everything that's happening, but providing detailed information ensures adequate time is scheduled with the doctor. Failure to mention additional issues during scheduling could result in a shorter appointment time, which is typically around 15 minutes. Informing about any new problems or the need for a complete physical ensures sufficient time is booked for your appointment.
  • Surgeon Delays. As a patient, it's important to understand that if you are seeing a surgeon, several unforeseen circumstances can cause delays. If they're doing surgery, something unexpected may come up that causes the surgery to take longer. As surgeons, we cannot speed up our surgeries; we take as long as we need to ensure that the patient is cared for. If you need to see a surgeon, it's best to allow some extra time in case of delays. 

Not too long ago, I was to see patients in the clinic all day. I also had surgeries scheduled over the lunch hour. However, the surgeon operating ahead of me was two hours behind, which caused a delay in my surgeries and a backup with my clinic patients. I'm grateful to work with a physician assistant who could see my patients and come back and forth, but with one patient, I could only see them for 30 seconds. That two-hour delay was not in my control. I'm sharing this story to show that delays happen and can cause longer than usual waiting times. Because delays are inevitable at times, I want to share with you some tips on being prepared for when they happen so you can have a better patient experience.  

Tips for a Better Patient Experience

Tips while waiting for a doctor

Below are some tips for a better patient experience while waiting for a doctor. 

Be Strategic

  • Schedule your appointments well in advance to ensure availability.
  • Look for appointment times early or late in the day to avoid potential conflicts with other plans.
  • When you schedule, confirm that your contact information is current to avoid missing reminders or appointment changes.

Come Prepared

  • Before leaving for your appointment, ensure you have all necessary items, including your insurance information and relevant medical records. Be aware of whether you'll need to pay any co-pays.
  • If you are going between health systems, you may consider obtaining printed copies or digital versions of your medical records, including X-rays. While electronic medical records are often accessible, there may be limitations in accessing images. Therefore, maintaining your record file can help with coordination across different healthcare providers.
  • Come prepared with your questions, which I encourage you to write down beforehand. When you check-in, you can hand them to the receptionist, who can give them to the doctor to prepare them when they see you. If you need help with how best to prepare, see my guide to help make the most of your appointment. 
  • Try to be punctual and leave early enough for your appointment in case of delays like traffic jams or parking issues. I give my patients grace if they run about 10-15 minutes late, but not all offices do that.

Come Equipped 

  • Bring things to pass the time, such as a book or magazine, or download a favorite podcast.
  • Bring your laptop to get work done.
  • Pack healthy snacks and a water bottle to keep your energy levels up. Although if you are unsure if you may need to have any procedures done or labs drawn, it is best to refrain from eating in case of any fasting requirements.

Bring a Friend

  • Bring a friend or family member to keep you company. It is beneficial if you are coming in for an appointment, such as scheduling surgery.  
  • Data shows that people only remember about 10% of what is said at a doctor's appointment, leaving about 90% forgotten or confused. People get anxious and nervous about healthcare issues, and it's really common that they don't remember. If you can bring a friend or family member who can write things down, it's extremely helpful.

This article here goes more in-depth and provides other interesting and insightful ways to help you while waiting for a doctor. 

A Better Patient Experience  

Delays happen, and these delays can cause longer than expected-wait times waiting for a doctor. As a patient, you play an important role in your experience in the waiting room. For doctors, your well-being is our top priority. We appreciate your understanding and patience in the waiting room when delays happen. I hope the tips and insights offered here provide care beyond the visit so you can have a better patient experience at your next doctor's appointment. 

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