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Why Do Doctor's Office Visits Take So Long?

Patients in Waiting RoomMost people have experienced it many times in their lives: you make a doctor’s appointment and are still sitting in the waiting room long after your appointment time has come and gone.

Or you plan your day around a doctor’s visit that should be quick – only to find yourself sitting in the exam room waiting for the doctor for much longer than you expected.

You may ask yourself, why exactly do doctor’s visits take such a long time? What on earth is the medical staff doing?

I have been a licensed chiropractor and owner of my own practice for more than 20 years. My experiences can help give you insight into why your visits can sometimes take much longer than you expect.

Top Reasons for Long Wait Times in the Doctor’s Office

Doctor’s office wait times can be long for many different reasons. Some of the top reasons include:

  • Emergencies: Your doctor tries to give every patient the best quality care possible. For this reason, when a patient emergency occurs, your doctor tries to give every patient the same attention that you would want if you were in the same situation. Because most emergencies are unexpected, this can increase your wait time.
  • Equipment problems: Equipment issues including computer problems can take up a large chunk of time to troubleshoot. Because most medical records are now electronic, computer troubles can significantly slow down an office visit.
  • Documentation: Extensive medical documentation is now required by both insurance and health regulatory agencies. Because doctors need to document a patient visit either in real time or immediately after the visit, this can cause a backlog in the waiting room. On average, medical documentation takes about 16 minutes per patient.
  • Phone calls: Doctor’s offices receive a lot of phone calls. Frequently, these calls are not from other patients competing for your doctor’s time. Rather, they are from other healthcare workers with urgent questions. Other doctors, pharmacists, and insurance companies often call doctor’s offices with requests that cannot be delayed. This can add to your wait time.
  • Late patients: If a patient is late to their appointment, many doctors will try to accommodate them. However, this can mean that other patient visits get pushed back as the doctor treats the person who was late. Over the course of a day, this can snowball, especially if multiple patients are late to their visits.
  • Staffing issues: Just like in any office, staff members may go on vacation or call out sick for the day. In fact, in the healthcare world, staff members are often encouraged to stay home if they are feeling under the weather, to avoid getting patients sick. Being short handed can result in longer wait times, as the remaining staff members perform not only their jobs, but the job of the absent person.
  • Staffing breaks: The staff in your doctor’s office is human like everyone else. They may need to take a break to use the restroom, grab a snack, get a drink of water, or clear their heads. This can translate into a delay seeing patients.

Tips to Reduce Time Spent in the Waiting Room

Although sometimes a wait may be unavoidable, there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of having to wait a long time.

  • Make an appointment first thing in the morning, or right after the office lunch break: Asking for an appointment time where there will be no patients in line before you helps to ensure that your care is as prompt as possible
  • Ask for a day where the doctor has a light schedule: The doctor’s schedule may fluctuate from day to day. Asking for an appointment day where the doctor’s schedule is lighter can reduce your chances of having to wait.
  • Avoid Saturdays, evenings, and holidays: Chances are, if you have the day off from work, many other people will, too. Avoiding peak times can help to reduce your wait.
  • Make sure the doctor is not just returning from vacation: Many of us have experienced having a pile of urgent business waiting for us when we return to the office from a break. Doctors are no different in this regard. Making sure your doctor is not just returning to work from time out of the office can help to reduce your wait.

What to Do During a Long Wait

If, despite everything, you find yourself facing a long wait to see the doctor, there are still actions you can take to make the best use of your time.

  • Ask the receptionist how long it will be until you are seen: The front desk will usually have a good idea about your doctor’s schedule. If you find yourself waiting longer than expected, it is reasonable to ask them how much longer the wait is likely to be. If you are told that it will be longer than you are willing to wait, you should feel free to ask if you can reschedule your appointment for another time.
  • If your visit includes lab tests, paperwork or vital signs, ask if you can do them while you wait: Sometimes, doctors will plan to check your labs or vital signs during office visits. In other cases, you may be asked to complete paperwork. Asking the front desk if you can complete these while you wait can both help to keep you busy as well as reducing the time you would later spend on these tasks during the visit.

Length of Visits at Precision Spinal Care

At Precision Spinal Care, our staff makes it a priority to respect your time while giving you the highest quality of care possible. On average, a new patient visit can take up to 2 hours. These initial visits tend to be long so I can fully assess your medical problem.

As a credentialed spine care specialist, I make sure to take my time to do a thorough examination of your spine on your first visit. After the exam, I will go over my evaluation with you in detail. I will also make sure you have enough time to ask any questions that you may have. Together, we will set reasonable expectations and milestones for your plan of care.

The initial visit is usually the longest visit by far. Routine follow up visits are usually much shorter, generally ranging from 20 to 30 minutes each.

We understand that you need to explore all your options when you look for expert chiropractic care. At Precision Spinal Care, we are happy to help you determine the best way to address your specific needs and discuss all the options with you and your family.

Call our office at (757) 382-5555 to speak to the doctor or set up a consultation. You can also set up an appointment through our webpage.

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