Thursday, December 10, 2015

Why your doctor might not be on time

I wish I could be prompt in seeing all my patients.  I wish I could guarantee that if you have a 9:15 appointment, you will be called back at 9:15, seen by the doctor at 9:16, and on your way out of the office by 9:30.

But, as much as I would like, I can't make that promise.

A follow-up patient, one who has seen me before, has a 15 minute slot on my schedule.  That doesn't mean that is the amount of time you spend with the doctor.  If you're doing great, blood pressure and labs look good, medications are okay, your visit with me might just be a few minutes.  If you aren't doing as well, I may spend more time, getting information, looking at test results, maybe even calling one of your other doctors to discuss the case.  All of that can take well more than the 15 minutes allotted on the schedule.  And that will put me behind. 

If you have an appointment, you will get the time that you need to get the care that you need.  I will promise that to all my patients. 

I'll give you an example of a recent morning in my office.  Names and identifying details have been changed to protect patient identity.

My clinic on this particular day starts at 8:30 am.  But, it is 8:30, and my first patient has not arrived, so I am sitting at my desk, catching up on lab results and renewing medications.  My 8:45 patient has arrived early at 8:40, so I go see her.

Tara, my 8:45 am patient, is a woman in her late 60's who has a lot of medical problems.  But, in spite of her health issues, she's incredibly active and works in her family's day care center.  She is here today because she's been very short of breath and fatigued over the past month, has been using an oxygen tank at home that she usually does not need.  I put a pulse oximeter on her and have her walk around the office to see if her oxygen drops below the normal range.  I examine her, and we talk, and we decide on an echocardiogram to evaluate a murmur that I don't recall hearing before and some lab work.  She's also in tears, frustrated at how ill she feels, and I reassure her that I'm going to help her find out what is going on.

By the time I see my 9:00 patient, it is now 9:15.  Anthony is in his late 70's, has a very weak heart and a severely abnormal heart valve, is very short of breath, and smokes a half of a pack of cigarettes daily.  At past visits we have talked briefly about the possibility of a valve replacement, but he has also had a cancer scare, so until we knew more about whether he had cancer, we did not make any plans for heart surgery.  Fortunately he does not have cancer.  We adjust his medications, and discuss his heart condition and the benefits of surgery.  I refer him to a surgeon.  And of course we discuss quitting smoking.  That visit takes about 20 minutes.

Now it is 9:35, and apparently my 8:30 patient Leann has shown up after all, and is in a room.  She's a lady I saw over a year ago  for a fairly routine clearance for a colonoscopy.  Since I had seen her previously, she was booked as a follow-up appointment, and was only given 15 minutes.  However, in the year since I had seen her, she had had a stroke and a heart attack, and had been told that she needs to undergo heart bypass surgery.  So, before I can go in to see her, I spend ten minutes reviewing hospital records, and pull up the images from her recent coronary angiogram.

When I walk in to see Leann, it is 9:45.  I see a very depressed woman in a wheelchair, her left side limp from her recent stroke.  Her husband sits next to her, expresses his frustration that much of the time she gives him a hard time about taking her medications, and sometimes flat out refuses.  Further, they do not know the full list of medications that she is taking.  It becomes apparent that heart surgery right now is not a good option.  I discuss the importance of taking medicines to keep her recent stent open.  I'm very worried about her, and we make plans for her to return in a month, and for him to call later that day with a complete medication list.

It is now 10 am.  My 9:15, 9:30, and 9:45 patients are in rooms and waiting to see me.  The rest of the morning is behind.  My 10:30 patient, who I do not see until close to 11:45, tells me that she is upset that she has been waiting, and I genuinely feel bad and I apologize.

My morning clinic, which is scheduled to end at noon, finishes at 1:20 pm.  I have ten minutes to walk to the break room and eat lunch before my afternoon clinic begins at 1:30 pm. 

Not all mornings in my clinic are like this.  But, it does happen, a few patients who are in need of attention can set a clinic schedule behind.  And I'm sure every physician can relate.

Please understand, as your doctor, I want to respect your time.  However, I also have to provide the care that my patients need, and that can take more time.

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