Waiting Rooms

I recently heard from my friend Kevin Kelly about his experience with a specialist physician he is otherwise very happy with. “Her one downside (everyone has one) is that her office style makes us wait up to 2 hours beyond the appointment time to see her each time. When I questioned the staff, everyone in her office says this is normal. Question – Should we politely complain about habitual tardiness in a great doctor? And if so, what is the proper form? Or is that just the “cost” that we should pay?” Many of us are familiar with long delays in the waiting room – often amidst other sick children and with our own children progressively less happy. The concept of a ‘waiting room’ for patients belongs to an old view of healthcare, but one that remains deeply entrenched.

In the old view, the doctor is the center and we all await the doctor’s diagnosis and the doctor’s orders. The Hippocratic Oath is the written manifesto of this perspective. That model can only carry us so far. For healthcare to break through current limitations, we must recognize doctors and patients alike as key decision makers and health-actors. Both have critical areas of expertise to bring to the relationship. Doctors bring a lifetime devoted to studying health. Parents bring an unparalleled knowledge of their own children and of their own family dynamics. When both sides are respected, the richest outcomes are possible. This way of practice is captured in the Millennium Health Oath.

I would certainly pay the cost of a long wait in order to see a great doc (especially one who is working you into an already full schedule). But you might also invite her or her staff to brainstorm on ways to solve her needs (to have patients available when she is, given her unpredictable pace) and her patients’ needs (to get to see the great doc with the minimal of waiting time). Polite complaints are certainly appropriate, and enough of them from enough people will often make a difference. But brainstorming together may make a single complaint far more effective. It was brainstorming about scheduling with my patients that gave birth to our website :^)

Published on: March 03, 2003
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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