Occasionally, I will find myself running an hour or more behind in clinic. Sometimes the delay may be the result of a particularly ill child requiring more of my time or an urgent C-section at the hospital where a pediatrician was needed. Most parents understand and while no one wants to wait to see their doctor they are typically sympathetic to the situation and, quite honestly, they would rather not trade places with the patient in dire need. The same can’t be said when I’m just too busy in the first place and don’t have openings in my schedule for same day appointments. It always irks me when I hear that a patient felt the need to take their child to a “doc-in-the-box” center (or Emergency Department) because our office was unable (or unwilling) to see them that day in our clinic. Though their particular problem may not have been truly urgent, in their mind it was and they wanted their child seen. As a fellow parent, I can’t blame them.
On a national and international level, however, problems involving delays in seeing patients is nothing new. Long before its current woes, the Veterans Administration formed a national task force eleven years ago to look into this complaint and noted that over a quarter of a million veterans waited more than six months for an initial doctor visit or first follow-up. Overseas, the British National Health Service, where wait times for both specialists and primary care providers are at a five year high, gives us an idea of what our own looming National Health Care scene might look like since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. While we are always looking to improve scheduling problems, suddenly my own office wait-time issues don’t look so bad.