Healthcare News & Insights

The waiting room wars: Patients strike back


Patients hate the sometimes interminable wait to see the doctor. And now they’re looking for ways to punish tardy docs. It sounds fair — but is it really?

Under the guise of a consumer-affairs article, the New York Times recently ran an article on how patients can get back at health care providers who run late for patient appointments. Some of the suggestions include:

  • Asking for a discount/waived co-pay
  • No longer seeing that doctor/practice, and
  • Leaving negative feedback on review sites like Yelp and RateMds.

What the article pays little attention to is the fact that many, if not most, of the causes of tardy doctors are in the control of patients themselves. In any given day, a typical doctor may have to deal with one or more patient emergencies and field phone calls from patients with questions about ongoing treatments. That’s not including the number of patients who show up late themselves, or who wait until the doctor has finished their routine check-up to mention the weird sore they noticed three months ago.

While no patient likes to be kept waiting — and doctors don’t like running behind schedule — it’s hard to avoid some snafus given the current state of American health care. That’s especially true for primary care physicians and other practices that are chronically short-staffed.

What’s the remedy?

Some delays may be inevitable, but a little communication can go a long way. Rather than let patients sit and wait with no end in sight (getting angrier and/or more anxious as time drags on) practices should make an effort to let patients know how long the wait is likely to be. Ideally, if the delay is an hour or more, patients should be called before they arrive at the office.

Practices should also make it easier for patients to reschedule if needed — without incurring a penalty. Some patients literally can’t afford to take off an entire afternoon to get some simple bloodwork done.

What are some other ways doctors and patients can deal with delays to minimize the stress on everyone? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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