Doctor Delays

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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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