Come see for yourself why medicine rarely runs on time

“Sorry, I’m running late … sorry, to keep you waiting.” How many times a day do I say that? Sometimes it is every time I walk into a patient’s room as if it is a normal greeting. Sometimes patients respond with: “Oh, you aren’t late” or “I haven’t been waiting long.” I can be so obsessed with not being late that I don’t realize I’m actually running on time! But I know it is a common complaint that patients “always” have to wait to be seen by their doctor. One of my senior partners at work used to say “waiting for a good doctor is like waiting to be seated at a good restaurant, it is worth the wait,” and never worried about time. I admired how thorough he was with his patients — I don’t think any of his patients felt rushed or not heard and came to expect waiting for his care.

Come join me for a day and see for yourself why medicine rarely runs on time. It’s not because we don’t try or we sadistically want our patients to suffer waiting naked in an exam room. It’s because, well, stuff happens and as the day rolls on, the stuff gets bigger, like a snowball rolling down a hill. That snowball is filled with the inconsistencies of life and patient needs that can be unpredictable.

Let’s start our day — Monday at 7:50 a.m. I arrive at my office, turn on the computer to see my patient list for the day and put on my white coat. While walking down the hallway, my medical assistant greets me as she goes in and out of each exam room, making sure they are stocked. I go back to my station to take a closer look at my schedule. I usually have patients scheduled every 15 minutes, but sometimes the slots are double booked if patients need to be worked in for an urgent issue or emergency. As I look at my list, there is the usual variety of annual exams, OB patients, IUD insertions, and colposcopies. There are also new patients — some with specific issues, some for just a check up — post-op checks, ultrasounds, and consultations about getting pregnant or how not to get pregnant. Some patients I know will be fairly quick, not having any issues and some take a little longer. Hopefully, they will balance out each other out so I can run on time.

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