DARE TO ASK: Doctor will be with you in a minute
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why is it that if I'm 15 minutes late for a doctor's appointment, I have to
reschedule, but if I wait more than an hour past my appointment time, that's OK
because the doctor is busy?
Alma, 48, Kempner, Texas
I was a waitress, and if I made people wait 15 minutes before I went to their
table, they would either a) be very angry, b) walk out or c) give me a lousy
tip. I don't think doctors or dentists care about their patients' inconvenience.
S., 24, female, Cleveland
At my clinic, if it takes awhile for the doctor to get to you because "he is
busy," chances are he really is. The other day I stepped into the exam room to
see a little girl there for a cold. Upon exam it became apparent she was pretty
damn sick and literally dying before my eyes. Needless to say, my time with her
went a little beyond the scheduled allotment. I then had the pleasure of walking
into the next exam room and having a mother shower me with obscenities because
she had to wait to get her kid's warts looked at. What can I say? I thought
keeping that little girl alive was sort of important.
Sam, 33, physician, Jackson, Miss.
The way they schedule appointments is stupid. They are too close together.
Aubrie, 20, Moscow, Pa.
I work in the health-care industry and watch doctors take a patient in for a
15-minute "checkup," and the person will ramble on about every minor ache and
pain . . . ! Would you rather he be rude and show the patient the door?
Dave, 48, Hartford, Conn.
Patients with appointments waited an average of 20.2 minutes to see the
doctor, according to a 2003 study by the American Medical Association.
Why that seemed more like six hours if a runny-nosed child was nearby playing
The Legend of Zelda nonstop on Nintendo DS was not studied.
Wait times at the doctor can seem longer than they are because often you're
worried and, well, you're not doing much of anything except looking at a
magazine, said Samantha Collier, chief medical officer for Colorado-based
HealthGrades, a health-care ratings company.
"Also, you're getting a 15-minute slot based on a symptom, and then the
physician has to figure out what it is. It could be as serious as a heart
attack, and if you had that, I hope you'd want the other patients to wait."
What's unreasonable is waiting longer than 20 minutes and not getting an
explanation or solution from the doctor or receptionist, she said.
One way to help: Arrive prepared, with specific descriptions of your ailments
if possible, Collier said.
Overbooking doesn't help, but with insurance sometimes doling out meager
reimbursements for visits, physicians can boost their patient loads in order to
cover their overhead.
"What if a physician gets only $18 from Medicare to talk about 55 medications
with a senior patient?" Collier said. "My hair stylist gets more than that."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information. For Dare to Ask podcasts, go to
Jacksonville.com keyword: milano.