Dr. Roach writes: In a recent column, I gave my opinion that physicians who are habitually late are disrespectful to their patients, and advised readers to try to get the first appointment of the day or to consider switching doctors. This generated some letters, two of which are here:
Dear Dr. Roach: When I read this morning’s item about the wait time in doctors’ offices, I just had to set the record straight. There is no way to avoid a wait in a doctor’s office. In fact, the 20-30 minutes that the reader complained about is mild. Most waits can be — and usually are — 45 minutes to an hour. In my area, I know that two-hour waits are very common and, believe it or not, patients put up with it to go to that doctor.
You must wake up out of this idealized La La Land that you practice in. It just doesn’t work like that in today’s world. You are building your readers up for disastrous expectations when you advise these things.
Dear Dr. Roach: As a physician for more than 40 years, I occasionally was 15 or more minutes late for a patient appointment. On these occasions, I had my staff advise those patients in the waiting room and call those who had not yet arrived to ask if they wanted to reschedule.
Medicine is not 100 percent predictable. We need to take care of patients as their needs arise, not on a fixed “15-minute appointment” schedule. Sometimes it takes a little extra time to provide good medical care.
Unfortunately, the last patient of the day often winds up having all the “extra 5 minutes” the other patients needed tacked on to their waiting time. Medical needs trump scheduling. Do you think your doctor “scheduled” your 2 a.m. emergency-room visit or your newly diagnosed cancer or your son’s drug problems that delayed his entire day? It’s not a business, it’s a medical practice.
That being said, a doctor who routinely runs behind needs to revise his or her scheduling. Of course, that might mean prolonged delays getting appointments. It’s a no-win scenario.
Dear J.L.S.: I looked up the reported wait times for a primary care doctor around the country, and they vary from 15 to 23 minutes. I think Dr. J.L.S. does at least one very important thing: When he is late, he lets his patients know.
I feel very badly for M.W., but find it hard to believe that there are no doctors in the area who are not habitually late.
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