Thursday, January 25, 2007

Doctro pateints relationships - Your Doctor and You - Sick and Tired of Waiting, Eighth in a Series

“I am ready any time. Do not keep me waiting.”

John Mason Brown, 1900-1969

Most patients are satisfied with their doctors, but there are complaints, particularly about time spent in the waiting room, according to a survey of about 39,000 patients and 335 primary care doctors that appears in the February edition of Consumer Reports….. Patients' top complaint about doctors was time spent in the waiting room. Nearly one in four patients (24%) said they waited 30 minutes or longer.“

Sources: WebMD, Inc, January 8, 2007, News Release, Consumer Reports, Re: Consumer Reports, February 2007 issue pages 32-36

You’re sick and tired of waiting -- waiting to get an appointment, waiting in the doctor’s waiting room, waiting to get the procedure done, waiting to get test results, waiting to see the specialist to whom you were referred, waiting in the hospital admitting suite, waiting in the emergency room, waiting to have your operation.

Why can’t doctors and hospital be more efficient?

Don’t they understand your time is just as valuable as theirs?

For patients tired of waiting, there is good news and bad news.

The good news is:

Doctors are working to shorten waiting times.

The bad news is:

Waiting lines are growing longer. The best advice: call ahead and insist on being seen on time.

Doctors are as concerned as you are about long waiting lines in their offices. They are keenly aware of new assertive “health care consumers,” who will be spending more of their own money, and will want to be seen promptly on time. So doctors are doing something about shortening or even eliminating waiting times for appointments. They want to please health care consumers and please patients.

Doctors and practice managers across the land are diligently introducing “open access scheduling,” or other forms of “wave” scheduling, in their clinics.

The “open access” concept is simple enough – leave slots open daily in the doctors’ schedules so you can be seen on the day you call.

“Wave” scheduling is based on the fact that patients come in “waves,” e.g., on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, and you can more efficiently arrange your schedules to anticipate patient waves.

Switching from the present way of doing things, tight schedules with no openings, to seeing patients on the day they call or anticipating and planning for waves in which they appear, doesn't happen overnight.

Doctors must readjust practice habits. Open-access scheduling involves "doing today's work today," i.e. physicians going home with all work done, immediately dictating or otherwise entering their findings, eliminating appointment backlogs, and seeing patients on the day they call for an appointment.

Meanwhile, in the Short Run

Meanwhile, in the short run, waiting problems have grown worse.

Advances in technology have created more tests and procedures to wait for, and new drugs and treatments mean more people need more doctor visits.

Over the last ten years, the National Center for Health Statistics says doctors' appointments for people over 45 increased by more than 20 percent and emergency room visits went up by 23 percent.

Doctor Shortage

And then there’s the complicating factor of the doctor shortage. In the February, 2002 edition of Health Affairs, Richard Cooper, M.D. of the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee projected a shortfall of 50,000 physicians in the U.S. by 2010 and 200,000 by 2020. At a 2005 national conference on the physician workforce sponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges, most leading physician supply analysts agreed physician shortages will be serious and sustained.

This shortfallof physicians and lengthening waiting times for seniors may be greatly exaggerated by government policies calling for continuing cuts in Medicare fees for the next five years. According to a new AMA survey, nearly half of physicians plan either fewer new Medicare patients or will stop seeing new Medicare patient’s altogether if Medicare physician payments continue to be reduced.

Next : Tired and Sick of Waiting, Waiting Times Vary in U.S., are longer in Canada, can Endanger Your Health, Require Time Management, Ninth in a Series

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