Reasons I Wish I Could Tell My Patients I’m Late

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As doctors, we all wish our days could run smoothly with a perfectly planned schedule. Unfortunately, that just isn’t reality.

In a perfect world, a doctor’s day might go something like this:

  • Every patient arrives early to be checked in by the front desk and the nurse so that they are in the room at their appointment time.
  • Every patient’s complaint takes only the time allotted by their appointment slot without additional complaints, concerns or emergencies.
  • Every doctor’s day is scheduled so that there is plenty of time to catch up on charting, call patients who have questions, approve medication refills and speak to specialists.
  • Every day has extra hours built-in to have meetings and perform administrative duties.

The Real Situation

The fact is, things happen. Patients run late for a variety of reasons, especially when kids are involved (I’m a pediatrician). Furthermore, doctors run late because some patients require more time if they are sicker or have chronic problems and sometimes emergencies arise in the office that need to be addressed. We also do our best to accommodate every patient, which may mean a double-booked schedule during high-demand times like winter. Occasionally, doctors have to speak to specialists about patients who are either waiting in the office or who have abnormal tests. Finally, let’s not forgot that many patients wish to speak to the doctor on the phone while patients are waiting to be seen. On top of all of this, doctors have to chart efficiently about every patient visit and make sure that all of the past history and medications are accurate and up-to-date, as well as all lab and x-ray results reviewed. They also may have administrative responsibilities that take up their time during the day, including filling out forms and medication refills.

Many doctors are also involved in the business aspect of their practice. There may be meetings, phone calls or other tasks required of them during the day that take their time.

What do we want patients to know?

  • Patients should arrive 15 minutes early with accurate insurance information, any outside records from a previous doctor, specialist or urgent care/ER, and be prepared to fill out necessary forms. Parents should also bring their child’s immunization record.
  • Parents asking questions about the patient’s siblings really throws us off. We want to help, it’s in our nature, but they really need an appointment and it puts us in a bad spot when they ask.
  • Patients need to know that when they call for an acute appointment, there may not be time to discuss chronic issues and they may be asked to schedule a different appointment if they want to bring up many issues at once. We will always prioritize the complaints but we may not get to them all.
  • Parents should bring all school and sports forms with them – it is easier to do it at the visit than to have them pile up for after-hours. Please don’t ask for forms urgently because that takes time from seeing patients.
  • Patients need to stay on top of medication refills so that the doctor has plenty of time to review the chart and authorize the refill. Again, urgent requests interfere with patient visits and cause us to run behind.
  • Please remember to keep all follow up appointments and physical exams so that all health issues are addressed and treated appropriately. We don’t want to be rushed when it comes to taking care of your health.

One last reminder…doctors are people too

One thing I want patients to remember is that your doctor doesn’t want to run behind any more than you want to wait for 30 minutes or more to be seen. We stress about running on time as much as we stress about giving good care. Many times we save all of the busywork until the end of the day just so that we can keep our flow running smoothly. Yes, this means you may not get a call back until 5:30 or 6:00 in the evening, but it also means we aren’t getting home to our families until much later than we want to. So, if you are a patient, be patient and remember that you are getting 100% of our undivided attention when we are in the room with you…which may be why you waited so long.

Jaime Friedman, MD, is a pediatrician at Children’s Primary Care Medical Group in San Diego, California.

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