Doctor Delays

No one likes to wait to see a doctor. But according to the recently published results of a survey, both how long it takes to get an appointment with a doctor, and how long of a wait there is during the appointment itself, can have a significant impact on how patients feel about their doctors — primary-care and specialists alike.


The survey, which was conducted on the Web site and whose results were published in the journal Health Outcomes Research in Medicine, asked more than 22,000 people to rate their satisfaction with doctor visits between January 1, 2005, and January 1, 2008. According to an article on the results at Medscape Today, people who saw primary-care doctors tended to get appointments relatively quickly — half got an appointment within two days. These patients were more than twice as likely to be satisfied with their doctor than those who waited three to five days to see their doctor. (“Satisfied” was defined by researchers as a survey result of 70 out of 100 points, based on a variety of doctor-related questions.) Compared with getting an appointment within two days, a wait of between six days and two weeks resulted in 61% fewer patients of specialists and 62% fewer primary-care patients being satisfied with their doctors. Surprisingly, however, patients who had to wait between one and two months to see their primary-care doctor were only 50% less likely to be satisfied than those who waited fewer than two days.

Waiting times at the appointment itself also affected patient satisfaction. A wait of less than 15 minutes made primary-care patients nearly three times as likely, and specialist patients more than twice as likely, to be satisfied with their care than those who waited between 15 and 30 minutes. For both primary-care and specialist patients, a wait of an hour or longer led to about a 90% reduction in rates of satisfaction.

Several factors could have led to both longer waiting times and lower satisfaction in this survey. For example, patients might have been asked the reason for their desire for an appointment (symptoms, regular checkup, etc.) and given a later appointment if their reason was deemed nonurgent. Some patients, therefore, might have felt from the outset that their concerns were not taken seriously. A doctor interviewed in the Medscape article, however, recommends more over-the-phone screening when appointments are made, so that urgent cases are prioritized, based on the survey results.

What do you think — would you be more or less satisfied with a doctor if your appointment was based on an assessment of how urgent your needs were? Are you generally satisfied with the amount of time it takes to see your doctor(s)? Do you find that medical staff are responsive to personal pleas of urgency when making appointments? Would you settle for busier doctors, and shorter visits, in exchange for a shorter waiting period — or would you rather wait a longer period in exchange for doctors who are not in a hurry? Leave a comment below!

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  • joan

    * When I need a medical care the appointment is always provide to me based on how urgent the matter is.

    from experience often explaining the medical issue to the nurse does help a great deal

    * I have been satisfied with the time it takes to see my doctors.

    * Medical staff are pleasant and helpful whatever the issue.

    * I would not settle for shorter visits! I would not settle for anything but the best that my health team could provide. There are times when I waited longer than usual – it was due to an emergency that doctor was called upon to assist. If it were me having an urgent need I would be most happy to know care was there to help me.

    It seems that our society generally has come to believe that instant gratification is the norm.

  • John

    Dear nice Quinn Phillips , Thank you for your article . We had a doctor in the 1990’s and maybe early 2000’s . We were often the only ones in the waiting room . We waited on a big comfortable couch or on comfortable lounge chairs . We did not have to wait a long time to see the doctor . We liked this warm friendly doctor and his warm friendly nurse . Just the doctor and nurse , just like when I was growing up , in the 1950’s and 1960’s , when the doctor was often a friend of our family , and maybe a member of our religious congregation . When you could could call the doctor’s office , and actually talk with the doctor or the nurse . No office army of assembly line paper pushers , accounts managers , and bill collectors . No having the doctor be in the exam room for only one or two minutes . When the doctor made the medical decisions , not the patient who saw a drug ad on TV . Unfortunately , this nice doctor had a stroke , and had to retire . He was a thin Korean man . I don’t know why he had a stroke . We get many pieces of mail from doctors and medical service companies . All of this mail is about billing , about money . It would really be nice to get a letter which says “I would like to inquire about your health and about the health of your family . How are you all doing ? Sincerely yours , Your doctor ” . Thank you .

  • Carol

    I am not satisfied with my doctor, or his office for some time. In 2010 I was having stomach cramps and pain, I recieved an appointment 10 days from that point. I was in the hospital with diverticulitis by the time the appointment came around.
    I started with this doctor in the late 70’s and things have gone way downhill. I need a new primary care doctor-team for this diabetes. I have called several doctors who want to put me on their waiting list. I need a new doctor now not in six months, three months. I wonder is my area is just low on doctors who want new patients, or am I just immpatient and expect too much. How does one get a new doctor and build a diabetes team? I feel overwhelmed by all this new information. I am not sure I am doing it correctly.

  • GiGi Brakeville

    PBS had a show out about medical care in the United States. Many of the doctors dont care about the patients just how many times they can get them to come back to be seen. This is frightening to think that we are just a number. I have also noticed that many doctors treat the disease and not the person with the disease – in other words they have “cookie cuttered” us – even though we have diabetes – we are different people with disease with different needs and the disease affects each and every one of us in a different manner. Our job now is to make the doctors aware of this.

  • marylittle

    you know what i noticed recently..some docs see you (office visit here) order bunches of tests for your problems and don’t get back to the patient for weeks and then they charge them for another office visit to review those results..sounds a lot like double dipping for me two office visits for one problem