Well, it appears my last blog (A Pet Peeve – Wait Time at the Medical Office) has created a bit of a stir. Comments have ranged from full support “You GO Girl!”; to complacent “I don’t mind waiting – wouldn’t you want the doctor to take extra time with you if you needed it?“; to battle-worn “I just expect it, don’t schedule anything else that day, and bring along a good book”, and finally, to admonishment, “If you could walk out, you weren’t sick enough to be there anyway – It’s not all about you.” My favorite was the disgruntled reader who reproached me with “Mimi – pronounced ME-ME!”
In a previous blog, I bemoaned the physical status of my 61-year body (The Warranty On My Body Has Expired). Because of my vexing physical issues I have had my share of medical visits of late, which led to my tirade on wait times. While I poked some fun at the situation, there is a serious problem here!
As a nurse, I do have empathy with my colleagues dealing with busy medical practices. What with all the regulations, insurance requirements, changing standards, technological advancements, and ever decreasing reimbursement it is amazing that they choose to remain in the profession at all. And, they must deal with the occasional (or perhaps frequent) cranky patient.
In my years as a parent to young children, I did not grumble about the lengthy waits to see the pediatrician. Heck, most of the parents with children there had called in that morning because their child was ill during the night – just like I did.
I do object, however, to wait times that can be mitigated or avoided. So, I decided to write an open-letter:
[box] Dear Healthcare Provider,
I wanted to let you know that I am attempting to incite a revolution due to long medical office waits. I am encouraging others to take my lead and just say NO.
This is easy…to encourage your patients to abandon their visit as a form of protest. But what does that really do to you? Nothing – short of losing an insurance payment and co-pay.
What is not easy is actually getting them to do it, because it means one of three things:
1. Your patient must reschedule and roll the dice on the wait time at the rescheduled visit;
2. Your patient must find another healthcare professional and hope their systems are more patient-friendly; or
3. Your patient forgoes their medical issue.
The end result…clients are unhappy, deserting your practice, or ignoring important health concerns. My hope is you do not wish to see any of these results.
Here is the thing…I have not met one person who would have a real issue with you attending to an emergency, even if it will lead to long queues in the waiting room. But how can your patients be patient if no one tells them? Communicate!
I have not met one person who is opposed to you taking additional time to have a short friendly chat, to explain tests, to hold a hand after a tough diagnosis is given. I applaud you for it! In fact, I will give you a standing ovation! But instruct the person who schedules your time to be mindful. Add additional time to visits with elderly patients, with friends who are also patients, and when you know you have some hard news to dispense.
Don’t insult your patients with warning signs of impending fees if your patient is late or cancels, unless you have no issue with receiving bills from your patients when you are late, or cancel.
Apologize (sincerely) if you are late. Your patients might be fuming by the time you get to them, but you would be amazed how a sincere “Its been a rough day here at the office, and I know you have been waiting a long time, I am sorry” will change the tone of the visit.
Look at your practice patterns and own up to them. If you are always arriving late to the office, then don’t have patients scheduled before you have time to get in, get settled and have your coffee. If you routinely run late throughout the day, then don’t schedule patients back-to-back – and please, don’t double book. When has that ever worked?
I know it is important to be flexible and allow acutely ill patients to be “worked in” to your already busy day, so have some quiet moments on your schedule that could be used for these patients, especially during cold or flu season. And if you anticipate patients will arrive coughing, hacking, and potentially infectious, please escort them to another comfortable room to sit while you work them in – or you risk having more and more of your patients arriving that way!
It is perfectly fine to have a pharmaceutical representative bring your busy office staff lunch while she extolls the virtues of the next best medication. It is not fine to have your patients wait past their appointment times because of this. We know…we see her leaving with the rolling briefcase and left over Olive Garden bags.
I know you have my phone number in that computer of yours. Call me! Text me! Let me know that you are running late. Allow me to decide if sitting in the waiting room is where I want to spend my time.
Maybe part of the issue is in the semantics. Instead of calling me your patient, call me your impatient. It might change the way you view your day. “Doctor, your impatient is in treatment room #1.” Instead of calling it a waiting room, call it the delaying room. At least it is honest. “So how many impatients are in the delaying room?”
And one more thing, please remove that “Your call is important to us, please continue to hold” message from your phone system! We all know it is not true. Instead, I suggest you add something like this, “As we assist other patients, we ask that you hold. Should you wish, please leave your name and number and we will call you right back.” Then make sure someone does.
I respect you as my healthcare provider. I ask for the same respect as your patient.
Your Impatient [/box]
I would enjoy hearing other suggestions or comments.