How long is an acceptable time to wait in a doctor’s office? I posed this question not long ago on Facebook because I had been waiting in a doctor’s office for an hour and a half. No kidding. I was becoming more and more agitated as the minutes ticked by. This wasn’t supposed to happen–again. A couple of months prior I went to see this new Endocrinologist for the first time in her other office: I sat there for over two hours. On that occasion, after an hour of being left to fester, I approached the reception desk to inquire about the delay. I was informed that I was signed in and given a look which implied I was a little too pushy (maybe that was my own insecurity). This waiting room and reception area is used by several doctors in the practice, so it was difficult to determine who might be ahead of me in the queue. By carefully observing any interaction between patients and the reception desk, I was able to determine which patients were waiting to see Dr. Running Very Late, so I asked a few of them if she always ran this late, but I never received a verbal reply, just a little smile (or was that a smirk) and a sideways nod. (What does a sideways nod mean? yes? no? sometimes? don’t want to say?). Eventually I was called in and a very efficient nurse took my vitals. Okay, we’re making progress. Oh, but I should have known that being brought into an exam room does not mean that you are going to be seen anytime soon–those of you who have ever had to sit in a freezing exam room, naked, with nothing but a thin paper gown draped over you, while waiting for your Gynecologist to come in, know exactly that to which I refer!
Finally, Dr. Sorry to Keep You Waiting comes into the room, exuding a warm, caring energy. With a very relaxed air about her she begins to review all of my medical information–and there is quite a bit–as if she has no other place to be. She is charming and charismatic and I just can’t bring myself to be anything other than nice to her. In an instant I can no longer think about the words that I had imagined I would say; she’s thorough and kind, and I know that I will give her a second chance. When I check out, I am told that she is only in this office one day per week–that must be why she’s so behind here–so I make my next appointment at her other office, the one where she sees most of her patients. Problem solved, or so I thought.
So, there I sit waiting in the new office for an hour and a half, with my 82 year-old father waiting for me in the car. I keep running out to him to see if he wants to come in or if he needs anything. (Why he insists upon sitting in the car, instead of the comfortable, air-conditioned waiting room, I’ve come to believe was just part of a cosmic conspiracy to make me lose my mind that morning). One hour and forty-five minutes and Dr. Late Again strolls in. She, of course, apologizes for the delay. Really? Isn’t sorry something you say when you unintentionally inconvenience or cause discomfort to others and take action to prevent it from happening again? Somehow, I doubt this is the case.
“Are you always this far behind?” I ask, unable to hide my irritation. (And for some reason, I did feel as though I wasn’t supposed to be annoyed–or at least let on that I was annoyed).
She smiles and responds, “Well, the first patient of the day hadn’t been here for over a year; he had all his medications mixed-up, and that took quite a while to straighten out.”
The best I can do is raise my eyebrows as if she owed me more. And she did owe me more. . . me and the rest of her patients who were there just waiting our turn. Once again, however, she begins to work her magic and it becomes easy to forget the waiting when she seems so genuinely concerned. She makes me feel as though she sincerely cares about my health and will take whatever time it may to make sure that everything is covered–thoroughly. Isn’t that what we want from our physicians? Once again I leave her office not happy with the wait time, but very satisfied with the medical treatment I received.
This time I make my next appointment at her main office and it is the first appointment of the day: 9:00 a.m. Now I’ve got the ticket–this is how I can outsmart Dr. Tardy! The day of the appointment comes and I arrive five minutes early, but the medical assistant takes me right in, takes my vitals and enters all the info into the computer. Perfect. I feel like the cat that swallowed the mouse. As she is leaving the room, she casually mentions, “She’ll be here in about twenty minutes.”
“Excuse me?” I spit out.
“It takes her about twenty minutes to get here, so she should be here around 9:20.”
“Where is she coming from?” I ask, astonished that she is not even in the building!
“I just didn’t want to leave you hanging–she’ll be here soon” she whispers as if it’s a secret and closes the door.
So much for a straight answer. At this point, I start looking around for cameras, because clearly this is a joke! No cameras, no joke, and I don’t see Dr. Habitually Behind until forty-five minutes later.
I’m starting to become conditioned to her lateness. The way I see it, the situation is getting better–my wait time is diminishing with each visit. One day, I might have to call her Dr. Punctual, but I’m not holding my breath!