Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • janlorraine
    2 years ago

    Thanks for your encouragement. My doctor walked in, thanked me for waiting and began the exam. If she does it again, I will look for another doctor. Today I was there for an infusion appointment and as I was leaving spoke to another very upset patient in the elevator who told me that she had an 8:00 a.m. appointment. It was after 11:00 a.m. I made certain that my next appointment is the first one at 7:30 a.m. I can’t think of any good reason a rheumatologist would be late for an appointment at that time of the morning.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi janlorraine, Here’s hoping that the early bird truly gets the worm–or rheumatologist! A doctor being multiple hours late for an appointment is unconscionable (I think!) and I definitely would not stick with a doctor who is that disrespectful. That said, I’d ask both the doc and the staff about it because maybe there was an emergency or something special about that day. Still, if we don’t speak up they have no reason to change! Best, Kelly

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    2 years ago

    I truly dislike things that waste my time. Medication supply orders I sit at home waiting for. delayed doctor appointments, waiting for results are the worst of the worst.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Rick, totally agree with you. Hope that the waiting gets better! Best, Kelly

  • janlorraine
    2 years ago

    Recently I had an 8:00 a.m. appointment with my rheumatologist. I arrived early and was quickly escorted to an exam room in which I waited until 10:30 before my doctor walked in. How she could be so very late at such an early hour in the day is incomprehensible to me and even now I wonder why I continued to sit there hour after hour and minute after minute. Like you, I prefer to make my appointments in the early morning so that I won’t have to wait long for the doctor; this was one time when that strategy did not work!

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Thanks for writing Janlorraine, but sorry you had to experience this level of unprofessionalism – and I choose that word carefully. Full disclosure – I’m Kelly Mack’s husband and thus have witnessed first hand of what she speaks. It is simply not professional for a doctor’s office to leave a patient sitting in a room like that. Emergencies certainly happen that pull doctors away, but in those circumstances it is incumbent on the staff to fill you in on what is happening. It is possible that a doctor is unaware that you were left for so long, so you may want to bring it up directly that you were left alone with no idea what was happening for such a period. This will give you an idea if your time is also important to your doctor. Best, Richard ( Team)

  • Poll