Waiting is a waste of patients' time

Gerry Phelan
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I hope I don’t get sick any time soon. I’m picking on the doctors again this week and I expect to get a call any day from my own physician with a prescription for whining.

After I penned my feelings a few weeks ago about the poor bedside manner of a certain specialist, more than a handful of readers were quick to share their own tales of disgust. Many also vented about other physician-related issues, including long wait times.

We’re not talking about the months most of us have to wait to see a specialist or for some surgical procedure. People are fed up with the wait times in waiting rooms.

Karen had an appointment with her doctor for 11 on a Wednesday morning. She took an early lunch from the office, made it to the clinic 10 minutes before the appointment time, but didn’t get to see her physician until shortly before noon. When she got in, the doctor appeared rushed, and told her to make another appointment to discuss other medical issues she hoped to raise that day.  

Frank showed up at the Health Sciences for his visit to talk to a doctor about a possible life-saving procedure. He waited close to an hour, and after hearing someone else say she wasn’t waiting any longer, joined that patient at the exit, pointing out to the receptionist that the wait, with no update on why the doctor was delayed, was a bit much.

Some people try to beat the rush by nabbing the first appointment of the day. Sharon thought that would work for her, but she told me the whole schedule was off when the doctor arrived 20 minutes late, no explanation given. She said the attitude was as if that was normal.

Some years ago, I remember being pretty peeved during a wait at a physician’s office, when numerous people who had arrived after me got in first. I raised the matter when I finally spoke with the doctor and he was to the point: he didn’t like to keep the elderly, or women who were pregnant, waiting in a room full of sick people. I bought the logic, but it didn’t help explain to my boss why a 10-minute appointment actually took two hours.

My funniest wait in a doctor’s office happened as a teenager. I hadn’t bothered to tell the receptionist I was there for my appointment; I just sat down and started reading magazines. The hours passed and finally I was the only one left in the waiting room. She asked who I was and then told me my mistake.   

Some of you are pretty upset at the waiting stuff. One reader pointed out that if people were kept waiting for other services as long as they are in some doctor’s offices, those responsible would be fired. He compared it to overbooking by the airlines, that perhaps they are expecting cancellations so they overbook patient appointments.

Obviously there has to be a method to the scheduling and perhaps the administrative team needs to be more effective in moving things along.

There is no doubt many physicians are overworked, but it is also worthwhile to remember that the patients in the waiting room are already sick, or worried sick that they are sick.

Many physicians have posters in their offices making the point that they will bill for missed appointments. Well, what if a patient was to bill for waiting?  

Come to think of it, no one ever teaches you how to go to a doctor, that when you make an appointment the staff often don’t know if you are coming because of a chest cold, or a list of ailments you’ve saved up since your last visit. Perhaps an information campaign is needed to explain what should be expected so that the clinic visits are more functional and less stressful for all concerned.

A story I read in Best Health Magazine made the point that a doctor’s time has always been a precious resource, so we need to make every minute count. It should work both ways.

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at


Organizations: Health Sciences

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Recent comments

  • Eli
    July 26, 2013 - 18:56

    Right on Gerry. Only time I saw or heard staff letting people know what was going on was at the HSC Cardiac Unit a couple of weeks ago. The cardiologist never did show up so in desperation they called another one to fulfill the appointments. Too bad GP's don't have the same protocol especially those who schedule appointments 5 minutes apart.