Mr. Wilson has a 2:45 appointment with Dr. Treadman. Mr. Wilson arrives at Dr. Treadman’s office at 2:35 and checks in and takes a seat in the waiting room at 2:42. At 3:01 he is called back and his vital signs are taken and he goes into a room where his medication list is reviewed. The nurse leaves the room at 3:07 and says the doctor will be right with him. At 3:17 Dr. Treadman enters the room and apologizes for the wait.   Sound familiar?

So where has Dr. Treadman been? I am sure you could come up with a dozen possibilities. Some doctors do overbook themselves and you can’t be in two places at the same time. But, they may also be putting out fires. On a daily basis, doctors are faced with patients who come in for “routine” appointments and instead they have a potentially life threatening situation if a lab abnormality or symptom isn’t addressed then and there. It takes just one patient to throw off the entire morning or afternoon schedule. Then there are all the potential glitches between the patient’s house and the exam room that can make someone late and throw off a schedule as well.

So what is the solution? Some consumers have suggested that doctors lengthen appointment times or build in time blocks to allow for catch up. Unfortunately this is not a solution. All this does is reduce access to care for patients. It would be just like a popular restaurant closing its doors to new customers for an hour on a busy Friday night in order to catch up. Some practices have a reschedule policy for late patients. If you choose one of these it will eliminate one of the causes for long waits.   Practices that require new patients to complete all their paperwork ahead of time tend to avoid the problem of a new patient appointment that runs over into the next patient’s appointment.

In any situation, you can only control your part of it. Sometimes your choices are limited based on where you live and your health care plan, but you do have choices. You can potentially choose a practice with a reschedule policy for late patients and avoid doctors who routinely double book. It is less likely that a doctor will be behind first thing in the morning and first thing in the afternoon if these times work for you. When making your appointment, give the receptionist enough information so that your appointment can be scheduled correctly. Some things require longer appointments and some things like flu shots require a nurse appointment not a doctor appointment. But even with your best planning efforts, there will be times when those “mini” emergencies arise and the doctor will be delayed. You will be less frustrated and less stressed if you plan for potential delays that are out of your control. Don’t schedule appointments back to back. Give yourself some extra time just in case. Bring something productive to do in the event that down time occurs, that way you won’t feel quite so frustrated by the extra time you are spending there. Hopefully you won’t ever be one of those “mini” emergencies.