How the Health Care System Wastes My Time

We’ve all been there. Sitting in a bland room among uncomfortable chairs and scuffed walls. Waiting! Yet, that’s not the least of it. I sometimes feel the entire health care system is built on wasting patients’ time. It’s big business!

My parents ingrained in me to be early to my medical appointments so I always show up early. Often there is pre-appointment paperwork or some nonsense to deal with before the waiting begins. On the walls there are always warning signs about how not cancelling within 24 hours or being more than 15 minutes late will result in having to pay for a missed appointment.

The Waiting Game

But no one ever compensates me for my time—for all the accumulated hours of waiting.

Once I had problems with public transit and arrived late to a medical appointment. Yes, once in 40 years of living. The doctor (who had been late to meet me countless times) refused to see me and said she would charge me for missing an appointment. I explained my situation and that it couldn’t have been prevented, but the person at the desk said nothing could be done. Uncharacteristically, I started yelling about how unprofessional and insensitive this was until a manager came out to try to calm me. He offered to reschedule me for another day, but that was too little, too late.

Being treated with such disrespect was too much for me to bear. How could I trust this doctor in the future? I angrily said that I would not be back and left.

I think the larger problem is that the health care system at large doesn’t think of patients as people. We are widgets to be fixed. We don’t have our own lives and responsibilities, so it is OK not to consider our time.

Avoid having to wait

With my rheumatologist I have figured out a way to avoid the waiting by going to see him at the first appointment of the day. Sure, I sit a few minutes but no longer waste an hour! I do this with a lot of my doctors because I have learned that many of them get backed up and late because they are jamming as many patients as possible into the day – they are actually way overbooked. Once they are a little late, they often get more behind throughout the day.

But in my estimation the worst time-wasting comes from me (or my husband) having to coordinate between offices or others because the health care system is so incompetent at doing it themselves.

Communication and respecting the patients, a key for wasting less time

For example, every time I call for a refill of my allergy medicine the pharmacy says it faxed the doctor but did not get a response. Then the doctor’s office says they never received the fax. Then the pharmacy sends and I have to call the doctor back to get them to complete the paperwork right away because by this time a week has passed and I am on my last pill. It’s like they have no phones, emails, or communications abilities! But these problems arise between practically all my providers plus the health insurance company, so it is not rare (just a pretty extreme case).

Another time-waster that has really gotten my goat are the well-meaning patient assistance nurses from my health insurance or biologic medication provider. They ring me up to ask how I am doing and yammer on and on. I have tried patiently explaining that I work full time during the day and don’t have the time to chat, but have found it useless. Now I just dodge their calls.

Getting care from such an inefficient system is frustrating, but also disconcerting because time wasting also wastes money and resources that could be better used for care. My hope is that gradually the concept of respecting patient time will come into vogue and we will see some relief in the time wasting department.

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