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Opinion: The doctor will see you...eventually

The New York Times, August 2, 2011
"How much of human life is lost in waiting!" Ralph Waldo Emerson lamented in his 1841 essay "Prudence." Lately that observation has begun to seem particularly keen. I just did a quick tally: Over the past month, I have spent a total of six hours in three different medical offices, and nearly half of that time was spent just waiting to be seen. In one month alone, I lost three hours of this "human life" dawdling in waiting rooms. No one likes to be kept waiting. But it's particularly annoying to spend an hour or more in a waiting room when you're self-employed, like me; when you bill by the hour, as many lawyers, architects and designers do; or when you're just plain busy. Lisa Qiu, 23, an inventor in Manhattan, recently waited for 50 minutes to see her gastroenterologist. During the wait, the receptionist quizzed Ms. Qiu about her bills and asked her to fork over that day's co-payment. When the doctor finally called her in, "she didn't bother to apologize," said Ms. Qiu. Some consumers are clearly getting fed up. When MedPageToday.com, a medical information Web site, recently asked readers if they thought patients who were kept waiting for a scheduled appointment should get a discount on their bills, nearly half of the 3,200 respondents said yes. And 16% said that a discount wasn't necessary but that waiting patients should get a small token, like a gift card, that compensated them for being inconvenienced. Thirty eight percent said no acknowledgment was necessary.

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