Why Doctors are Always Running Late

I came across this interesting article this past week. If you are tired of having to wait for your doctor, this is a worthwhile read. If you are too busy to read this, then you can save this for the next time you have an appointment. The basic gist is that doctors are always late because it is pretty much impossible to do everything a doctor needs to do in the fifteen minute time slots that is given to us in our healthcare system today. I wrote about this in my book:

I wanted … to be able to see past the physical and meet the deeper needs of my patients, which was another reason family medicine appealed to me. Looking back, that was a great attitude when I had two hours as a medical student to see a patient. I could talk about all sorts of things.

But now in fifteen minute slots I am expected to address patient concerns, manage chronic conditions, keep updated an ever increasing list of health maintenance tasks, perform a physical exam, educate patients on the care plan and medications, and do all of this with active listening and empathy, partnering with patients to motivate them to take charge of their health—sometimes doing all this through a translator phone.

It was estimated in 2003 that a physician would need seven-plus hours per day to complete all the recommended preventative service for a typical patient panel, and another ten-plus hours per day to provide quality long-term care.11 With ever-improving technology we can do a lot of things quicker and more efficiently, but that just means more things are squeezed into the time that’s freed up. No wonder studies have shown physicians have higher rates of burnout compared to non-medical professionals, with the highest burnout among adult primary care providers.12

Worth the Cost? pg. 50-51

11 Yarnell KS, et al., “Primary Care: Is There Enough Time for Prevention,” American Journal of Public Health, 2003 April; 93 (4): 635-41.
12 Shanafelt TD, et al., “Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance Among US Physicians Relative to the General US Population,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2012 Aug 20:1-9.

The sad thing is that we will probably have less and less primary care doctors like the one described in the article, one that actually cares more about the person and less about meeting quotas and checking off preventative service tasks. True, some doctors are slow. But many simply just care about each patient they see. Next time you have to wait, maybe that’s a good thing.

 

 

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