Friday, July 22, 2011

Wait Times in the Medical Office

It seems that wait times in the doctor’s office has been as big an issue in civilizations as food and shelter. The new twist on this age old problem is to have physician’s pay patients for “unusual wait times”. Patient Elaine Farstad told CNN "to date, she's sent bills to six physicians who have seen her more than 30 minutes late, three of which have paid.” As a medical manager I have focused many man hours and extensive resources in our office to assure we stay on time. However, being a medical office, we do have medical emergencies that may cause us to run behind. While we attempt to minimize these emergencies through better triage at the front desk, many patients would rather wait until the physician walks in the room to announce that they have a pain in their chest.

Both as a manager and as a patient I would ask Mrs. Farstad a simple question: When you are in the exam room and you have an irregular, though in normal range blood pressure, what do you want your doctor to be thinking:

1) “This blood pressure is somewhat irregular, maybe I should make sure there are no other issues?"


2) “This blood pressure is a little irregular, but within parameters and if I run late with this patient I will have to pay the next patient. ”

Mrs. Farstad I would definitely want my doctor to think thought number 1. As we explain to our patients, we apologize for the wait but we assure them that the physician will take as long with them as necessary when it is their appointment.

The real issue is why do doctor’s run late. The answer is time. Physicians normally work more than 8 hours a day. In my office, one physician has 42.5 hours a week of patient time and the other has 46.25 patient hours a week. These patient hours do not include paperwork, charting, or any other medical or business matters. The standard patient appointment time is 15 minutes. How many of us could do our entire job in 15 minute increments, 25 to 28 times a day? Physicians do their jobs each day, every day in 15 minute increments, without mistakes and with measurable evidence of medical treatment. For this they receive a whopping $65.00 from contracted insurance companies.

The next time you are in a medical office and getting angry about the wait, remember there is a patient in the room right now, being treated by an exceptional professional who in 15 minutes must determine what is wrong, make a diagnosis, explain that to the patient and present a treatment that will take care of the issue. I am sure you would want nothing less.
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