The Waiting Game: Addressing Patient Delays

June 30, 2010

The New York Times has an interesting blog entry today regarding steps patients can take to cut either their wait times at their physician visits or take another attempt at trimming: by seeking a discount.

The New York Times has an interesting blog entry today regarding steps patients can take to cut either their wait times at their physician visits or take another attempt at trimming: by seeking a discount.

The blog entry, by one of The Times’ business writers, encourages patients to simply seek another doctor first if they feel their time is not being valued. It notes that some practices – in this case a concierge practice in New York – are solving the issue with longer appointments, one of the benefits of this business model.

For those non-concierge patients, the piece makes an interesting suggestion: ask your doc for a discount. The financial break can come in the form of a waived co-pay or another deduction, the blog suggests, that the physician would approve.

The author notes, “it can’t hurt to ask for a discount,” and if the physician rejects the notion, the patient can refuse to pay anything but the proposed discounted amount – which not only risks a bill collector coming to your door, but your doc unlikely to keep you on as a patient.

The blog’s notion of “punishing” docs by hitting them where it hurts – their wallets – is an interesting one, albeit a little tough to swallow.

We’ve seen hospitals across the nation post ER wait times on their website or via a telephone hotline, but could that work for physicians? Is it fair to punish a doctor when it may be another patient who is causing the waiting room traffic jam?

Scheduling is not an easy function of running a practice. Some have had success with open access scheduling, and we’ve offered advice on how to help turn angry patients into happy customers. The issue is not as simple as the Times’ blogger makes it out to be.

Perhaps patients could barter in the waiting room, seeking who will take the most time with their doc and then setting a scheduling order. Or maybe docs install a wheel in their waiting room with numbers and upon coming to a stop, that is the number of inquiries you can make of your doctor – sorry, lady luck will be the arbiter here.

The fact is that there are many factors that cause patient back-ups. Some are attributable to doctors, some to patients, but there are solutions outside of those the Times offers.

So how are you solving the patient pile-up in your waiting room? Would you give a discount for someone who’s been waiting? Weigh in with your thoughts.