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How to Spend Less Time Waiting for the Doctor

House Call Doctor has 7 tips for patients and 6 tips for doctors about how to streamline the primary care process so that you can spend less time frustrated in the waiting room.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
February 19, 2015
Episode #180

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If you’ve been following the House Call Doctor podcast, you know that for the past two weeks I’ve been talking about a hot button issue in the primary care profession: doctor lateness.

We touched on why doctors are always late and the 5 reasons they schedule patients so close together each day (hence causing their own lateness). Be sure to check out previous episodes #178 Why Is My Doctor Always Late? and #179 Why can’t My Doctor Spend More Time with Me?

Today, we’re going to look for some solutions to this pervasive problem. Obviously we can’t fix the primary care profession in one episode, but we can isolate some simple steps both doctors and patients can take to alleviate this cycle of lateness and frustration.

What We Can’t Change About the Primary Care System

Firstly, it’s important to understand that there are global, systemic issues that are out of our control. You and I cannot fix the system on our own, but we can write to our government officials to plea for change.  Until primary care doctors are being reimbursed for quality of care instead of quantity of care, and until we can recruit more medical students to choose primary care to reverse the shortage of doctors, it’s largely out of our hands. 

The good news is that the Obama administration did recently release a statement that their goal is to change the Medicare reimbursement system to do just that. We shall see how that pans out and if insurance companies will follow suit. It would certainly be great, but I’m not holding my breath.

What We Can Change About the Primary Care System

In the meantime, there are some factors that we actually do have control over. Here are 7 things you as a patient can do in order to diminish wait times at the doctor’s office:

Tip #1: Book the First Appointment

Your doctor will have less likelihood of running late if you schedule your appointment for the very first slot in the morning or afternoon.  Interruptions, as those presented in the episode Why Is My Doctor Always Late? are still possible at any time during clinic hours, but are less likely around these first appointments.

Tip #2: Ask When to Ideally Arrive

When you call to schedule your appointment, ask the scheduler to give you a time frame on when to ideally arrive (and if it’s necessary to arrive earlier). Do this especially if you are a new patient or you’ve had any recent changes to your insurance plan – which both require extra processing time.

Tip #3: Call Ahead

If time is of the essence (as it is for many of us), call the doctor’s office ahead of time on the day of your appointment to check to see how late the doctor is running. Of course, as we have learned, things may change between when you call and when you actually arrive. The doctor will most likely have at least several patients during that time period who can potentially set him or her back.

But by calling in advance, you can at least gauge how late your doctor is running and plan your arrival accordingly. Just remember, this approach runs the risk of missing your own appointment. If your doctor actually catches up on the schedule and is on time by the time your appointment slot rolls around, you may be out of luck.

Tip #4: Provide an Accurate List of Symptoms to the Scheduler

When you schedule your appointment, be sure to list all your reasons for the visit, preferably in order of preference.  Be specific, say:

          “I need to see the doctor about my headaches,”

and

          “I need refills of my medications,”

and

          “I have a work wellness form that needs to be completed by the doctor.”

That way, if the clinic has the luxury to vary the amount of time your concerns require, they can accommodate you. But even if they don’t have that luxury, it will give your doctor a heads up on how to manage the time she has with you during your visit from the get-go, rather than scrambling at the end. 

Imagine you tell the scheduler that you’re there for a headache. The doctor sees this and thinks this only requires 20 minutes of time. Then, when the visit is wrapping up, you mention the refills and the form. The doctor will now run late into the next appointment, contributing to the vicious cycle. 

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