In the absence of information and good communication, chaos and anxiety will fill the void.

I just saw a post on a Facebook community board from a woman who says she’s been waiting for 37 minutes (and counting) at her doctor’s office waiting area.

Here’s what she wrote:

‘I’m curious. Sitting at the doctors office and it’s now 37 minutes past my appointment time. I understand emergencies, but this is frustrating. How is it acceptable to make patients wait?’

The responses so far have been interesting. Most people say they would leave. A few say they would just wait it out because “that’s just how it is when you go to the doctor nowadays.”

Isn’t that a sad statement? Patients have come to expect poor treatment. It reminds me of the Department of Motor Vehicles. How often do you hear someone say they had a terrific experience going to get their driver’s license renewed? The DMV has become the punchline for many jokes and while this may not be true for all DMVs, sadly, they all get lumped in the same bad service category.

Back to the woman in the waiting room. How long IS it acceptable to make patients wait? Five minutes? An hour? Two hours?

In an ideal world, patients would never have to wait. But that isn’t practical in the world of healthcare, nor is it practical in virtually every other industry. However, the answer to this question doesn’t involve a timeframe. It just requires better communication.

If you look back to her post, she acknowledges that emergencies happen. And I would venture a guess that she’d be ok if indeed this was the case. But no one has communicated anything to her! She doesn’t know whether there’s been an emergency, whether the doctor is simply running behind, or if they’ve forgotten about her entirely.

In the absence of good communication, chaos and anxiety fill the void.

The solution is simple: COMMUNICATE. All it takes is for someone at the front reception to either slide that glass door barrier and call her name or to physically get up and come to the waiting room to talk to her. It doesn’t have to be anything formal or long and drawn out.

It can be as simple as taking two minutes to say, “Hi Mrs. Price. I know your appointment was scheduled for 10am. I apologize for the delay. The doctor had an unexpected emergency first thing this morning and as a result, she’s running a bit behind this morning. I just spoke with her and we can get you in at 11:15am, but if you’d prefer to reschedule, I’d be happy to make those arrangements.”

That’s it. A simple explanation like this one can help diffuse a situation. In fact, an even better solution would have been to tell the patient this information when she first arrived, rather than waiting for time to tick on.
We can’t always control the situation, but we can definitely control how we respond and how we communicate to others. Good communication is often the easiest and first step to reducing anxiety, worry, and stress and it helps build better provider-patient relationships.