Several years ago, I left an ophthalmologist’s office after sitting more than an hour in the waiting room. I can’t remember exactly why I left, but it was probably because I had to get home to conduct an interview or I had an article deadline looming and couldn’t spare any more time away from my computer.
I’m sure I was also pretty, um, shall we say perturbed at a doctor who seemed to be telling her patients that her time was more valuable than theirs. After all, the office staff had told me that no, the doctor hadn’t been called away to deal with a medical emergency. She was just “running behind.”
This doctor had been similarly running behind with her patients during my previous visit to her office. That time I had waited 90 minutes before being ushered into an examining room.
So, on this second visit, I decided not to hang around. I told the receptionist why I was leaving, and then went home.
I never thought to send the doctor a bill for the wages I lost during that wasted hour in her waiting room. (Freelance writers only get paid for the hours they work.) I didn’t know I could. But that’s apparently what some people do — including the self-employed owner of a California public relations firm. She told MedPage Today reporter Kristina Flore that she billed her ophthalmologist $150 recently for making her wait 45 minutes past her appointment time. (She deducted that amount from her final bill.)
“Now, it’s funny,” the woman told Flore. “They’ll always give me a time when they know I’ll be the first appointment.”
Last month, Oregon family physician Dr. Pamela Wible blogged about a friend who does something similar. “If I’m kept waiting, I bill the doctor,” the friend said. “At the twenty-minute mark I politely tell the receptionist that the doctor has missed my appointment, and at the thirty-minute mark, I will start billing at $47 an hour.”
Wible told ABC News that she hands out gifts of soaps and lotions to patients when she’s running more than 10 minutes late. Other doctors, according to the ABC report, offer gift cards or even cash. Still others have started texting patients when they’re running behind.
Physicians, of course, offer plenty of reasons (excuses?) — ones that have nothing to do with them, of course — for why we patients often find ourselves stuck in the waiting room, thumbing through months-old magazines or watching dreadful daytime-TV talk shows.
Some, apparently, blame inconsiderate patients who arrive late for appointments or who “add on complaints” during their visits, thus extending their appointments past the standard 15-minute mark and backing up the scheduling system.
Others blame the endless paperwork they say they have to fill out for insurance companies.
One doctor told ABC News that doctors run behind schedule because they “try to address the needs of each patient, and some patients come in sicker than anticipated, need more care [or] need to be hospitalized. It’s not because we are enjoying a latte, schmoozing with other doctors and watching the news in the breakroom.”
“If we are going to have a discussion as to the value of time, and patients want to be paid for theirs, then the change must encompass the physicians time, too,” said another doctor. “That means paying for after-hours advice, forms that are needed … or [paying] if you need more time than scheduled so the physician can pay all the patients who will now be late.”
Hmmm…. Feeling defensive, maybe?
Resolving the problem
I’d be interested in hearing if any MinnPost readers have ever billed a physician for keeping them waiting long past their appointment hour. But perhaps that’s a tactic that doesn’t meld with our “Minnesota nice” image.
I have a footnote to my ophthalmologist story. The doctor called me the evening after I left her office to apologize. She said she and her physician colleagues were concerned about appointment delays and were trying to fix the problem. Could I describe to her exactly what happened? And did I have any ideas for how to improve the situation?
At my next appointment, I had to wait only about 10 minutes.
And the waiting-room magazines were up to date.