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Long wait at the doctor's office? Blame the patients

By Dr. Anthony Youn, Special to CNN
updated 2:35 PM EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
There are several ways patients can cause a doctor to run behind schedule, Dr. Anthony Youn says.
There are several ways patients can cause a doctor to run behind schedule, Dr. Anthony Youn says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Patients sometimes show up late for appointments
  • Others mention complex issues at the end of an appointment
  • Sometimes, physicians are also to blame

Editor's note: Dr. Anthony Youn is a plastic surgeon in metro Detroit. He is the author of "In Stitches," a humorous memoir about growing up Asian-American and becoming a doctor.

(CNN) -- Everyone hates waiting in the doctor's office. It's gotten so bad that one physician pays his patients $5 whenever he's behind schedule.

Most of the time, I see my patients promptly. I hate running late. But like all doctors, every once in a while, I'm significantly behind schedule. And it's usually not my fault.

So who's to blame if your doctor is running late?

Blame the patients.

Is it the patients' fault? Find our what our readers had to say

Dr. Anthony Youn
Dr. Anthony Youn

There are three common scenarios in which patients can cause a doctor to run behind schedule.

Some patients just show up late. One-third of my patients arrive for their appointments at least 10 minutes after their scheduled time. New consultations often arrive as much as 20 or 30 minutes late.

My staff reschedules many of them in order to avoid delaying everyone else. Some patients, however, get angry and confrontational when they're turned away. So I try to accommodate them as much as possible to avoid an ugly scene.

Doctor charges $5 per visit
Doctor blames wait times on patients

Emergencies happen. As a plastic surgeon, I occasionally have to deal with situations that must be taken care of immediately. When this occurs, I may have to delay my patients' appointments to tend to them.

Plastic surgery: 'Wild West' of medicine

Most patients are understanding, but not all. One breast augmentation patient stormed out of the office and never returned after being told I was running late. Apparently, she didn't appreciate being delayed for a drunk whose lip was bitten off by his Pomeranian.

The patient pulls an "Oh, by the way." Some patients suddenly bring up new, complex medical issues at the tail end of their appointments. This causes their visit to extend way past the allotted time.

Here is a typical scenario: It's the end of a 10-minute office visit, scheduled as a follow-up for high blood pressure. It's been 12 minutes, the patient has her prescriptions, and the visit is concluding.

"Marie, I think we've covered your blood pressure issues pretty well. Do you have any further questions?"

"No, we're all set."

The doctor begins to open the door and step out.

"Oh, doctor, by the way, I forgot to tell you. I had chest pain last night and passed out in the bathtub. And I have bloody diarrhea."

One "Oh, by the way" patient can single-handedly cause a physician to run 30 minutes behind. Two "Oh, by the way" patients can create utter mayhem. They are the bane of a scheduler's existence.

Why doctors fall asleep while treating you

While patients often cause doctors to run late, some physicians must also shoulder the blame.

As a medical student, I once worked in a pediatric oncology office that ran at least an hour and a half late every day. The sick kids and their stressed parents sat patiently in the crowded waiting room, routinely waiting more than two hours to be seen. Because this was the only practice of its type in town, the patients and their families had no other doctors to turn to.

These physicians seemed to have no problem making their patients wait. Hours behind schedule, they would sip coffee and chat about the latest sports scores. The appointment times were merely a suggestion to them, since they obviously valued their time more than their patients'.

This old-school doctor mentality still exists in some circles but is hopefully phasing out. Medical schools are now teaching students that how we treat patients is just as important as what we treat them with.

So if you have a physician who makes you wait for long periods every time he sees you, then I encourage you to find another doctor who values your time. However, if on occasion your doctor makes you wait, then relax.

He was not out golfing.

He probably just heard, "Oh, by the way."

Seriously? Doctors say they're underpaid

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anthony Youn.

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