No one likes to wait for service, whether it’s at the grocery store or the DMV, but sitting in a waiting room is definitely the most counterproductive because unlike the DMV, where I expect to be agitated by long lines, I come for these appointments to feel better, not to get stressed.
I once had a doctor with an average wait time of about 45 minutes. She spent a lot of time with patients discussing their life, work and family, and while I agree with her holistic approach to health care, and appreciated our quality time together, she never scheduled enough time in between her appointments. I was expected to arrive on time, even though she always ran late. According to Vitals.com, U.S. patients spend an average of 19.25 minutes waiting to see their doctor. That’s still an unacceptable amount of time in my book.
I know you have my and other patients’ best interests at heart, but anything more than ten minutes in your waiting room is wasted time to me with nothing to do. I’m not allowed to talk on my cell phone or use it in any way that emits a sound. I’m sitting in a Grand Central Station of sick people coming and going, and so I refrain from touching anything—magazines, chair arms, counters, children. Heck, call me a germophobe, but I don’t even want to breathe the air a second longer than I have to! Normally, I’m usually a calm, good-natured person, but the longer I wait, the more stressed I get thinking about the germs around me, the next appointment I’ll miss, the work I need to get done, and the overall feeling of my time being disrespected.
My emotional reaction to waiting is probably typical to that of most of your patients, but it could be much worse if I were clinically depressed or prone to anxiety attacks. What if I had white coat syndrome? As much as 20 percent of the population suffers from it, causing blood pressure to spike when tested in a health care facility.
The first thing you do when a patient moves from the waiting room to the examine room is take their blood pressure and weight. The scale is stressful enough. I usually don’t eat anything hours before, wear the lightest clothing, and insist on removing my shoes before getting weighed! But when you mix a long anxiety-filled waiting period with white coat syndrome, blood pressure could get dangerously high.
The bottom line is that waiting for appointments is stressful, and nobody needs more stress in their lives, especially when they’re at a healthcare facility making an attempt to be healthier. I’m sure you’ve seen the many studies linking stress and disease.
Maybe I sound selfish to you, but I’m not the only one being put out by long waiting periods. When you run late, it creates a domino effect of stress accelerators that affect everyone in your organization—administrators, nurses, health care assistants, and yes, the doctors too. Don’t think I don’t notice that you’re rushing through our appointment. That you’re distracted. That you’re checking the time. I’m sure your job is stressful even without a crammed schedule.
I assume your organization uses some sort of patient scheduling system. Well, it’s not working! I don’t expect you to magically create a solution; I know that effective scheduling can be a pretty hard problem and you’re a doctor, not a mathematician or technologist. But thankfully, we live in a techno-centric country where scientific improvements to everyday life and work problems are prevalent, expected and pursued. Better technological solutions to this waiting room problem are available. For example, companies like LeanTaaS are taking a data science-based optimization approach to patient scheduling that considers multiple factors – patient visit duration times, patient volumes and mix, doctor and nurse schedules, chair and bed availability – to come up with an optimized schedule that significantly shortens patient waiting time. It’s being tested at some of the leading hospitals in the country like UCSF and University of Colorado with good results.
I know you became a doctor to heal people, but healing for me doesn’t begin and end in the examining room. It starts the minute I walk into your waiting room. Think of me not only as your patient, but also as your customer. Customer service and healing are intrinsically linked; when one suffers, so goes the other. This existing waiting room problem is bound to increase. People are living longer, which means there will be more patients to serve, and there’s a shortage of doctors expected by 2025.
Inspiring personal growth, professional success and positive change. Author of The Goddess of Happiness, Vita’s Will and Note to Self: Love (Book & Screenplay). Lover of food, fashion, fitness, funky music, dogs, dancing, cooking, laughter and anything Italian.