In most businesses, routine tardiness and delay is not accepted or expected. Unfortunately, in the medical world, the opposite is often the case. We not only tolerate delays and late appointments when dealing with medical professionals; we practically expect and plan for that very specific inconvenience. Expecting it, however, makes it no less frustrating.

I had a routine doctor’s appointment last week. Scheduled for 8:15AM, I arrived about 8:05, since the office insists patients arrive 10 to 15 minutes early. This is a fairly large practice, with 5 doctors in this office. I noted on arrival that I was the only person in the large waiting area. The nurse called me back at about 8:10. She checked my weight and blood pressure while I mentioned how quiet things were that morning. She commented that it was just the beginning of the day and noted that I was the first patient of the morning. She left me in the examination room, telling me the doctor would “be right in.”

And there I sat alone until my doctor walked in 35 minutes later, at 8:50.

I like my doctor. He takes the time to explain things and answer questions. He follows conservative protocols and is not prone to use the prescription pad as a primary tool of healing. Yes, my doctor cares about my health.

But he doesn’t respect me. His casually sauntering in 35 minutes after our scheduled appointment is ample demonstration of that. It is an action that truly speaks louder than words.

And in that arena, he is not alone. It is a common problem. Patient’s everywhere have frustratingly waited for physicians far beyond their scheduled appointment time; even early in the morning at the start of a new day. There are not many occupations that could get away with that type of behavior, yet we accept it as routine from the medical community. And when the medical professionals do this; insist on your timely arrival but fail to reciprocate as part of the service they provide, they are stating unequivocally that their time is far more valuable than yours.

I understand that things can go wrong during the course of the day that can lead to lagging service times. Patients can have medical emergencies that completely disrupt the operations of an office. Patients can be late themselves, or someone may have an especially vexing issue that demands more time from a doctor, throwing the days schedule in disarray. But too often, schedules lag because they can, and there is no urgency to keep them on track. When my doctor launched his workday 35 minutes after the arrival of his first scheduled patient, he likely set the course for a day full of delayed and late appointments.

We really should not be so complacent. Many of his patients that day have things to do and places to be. Their time is important, they should be treated with the same deference that is expected of them. Doctors should show some respect for their patients. Arriving in the examination room on schedule would be a great and timely way to start.

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