How to help your Doctor not run late


Anyone who has visited their GP with any regularity will understand that doctors do not always run on time. In fact, they can run very late at times which can be inconvenient for everyone involved. You don’t get to your next appointment or child pick up on time, and your Doctor may not get a lunch break or home to see their own family as planned.

There are a few ways that you as the patient can help with your doctor running on time.

Do not bring 20 items in the 12 items or less lane… I’ve used this analogy a few times recently to relate to how you can approach your doctor’s appointment and it relates across the health sector.

We have set appointment timeframes, and therefore we are only able to deal with a set amount within that time. Bringing more to a short appointment is therefore like trying to take a full trolley through the express lane in the supermarket.

So, how much is too much for a standard appointment?

This will vary but a usual standard appointment is 15 minutes (could be 10 or 20 in some GP settings too). In this amount of time we need to assess your medical condition by asking you thorough and appropriate questions, perform any necessary examinations and then create a plan to order tests, provide treatment and educate you about the condition as well as address any questions or concerns you may have… We also then need to write accurate notes so that your health records are as in depth and accurate as they need to be.

15 minutes is actually not a long time to do all of this, even for ‘one thing’ a lot of the time.

(And begs the question of why this is indeed the ‘standard’ appointment timeframe…)

This is why if you book a single appointment, we ask you only bring ONE thing to discuss, in general. We may try to deal with more if you bring more, but if we do something ‘half baked’, we can be more likely to order a test (which costs everyone time and money at the least), or not be able to explain something as completely, which really isn’t great medicine. You might leave feeling rushed, or your doctor will run late.

‘One thing’ for a 15 minute appointment could be a prescription (even if you’ve had it many times before) as that medication is for a medical condition that needs reviewing at regular intervals, and often the medication you are taking is only one part of the management your doctor is overseeing and needs to ensure is happening appropriately. For example for high blood pressure or cholesterol to ensure your lifestyle management is also being addressed like your diet, exercise and stress management, and if not why not, to ensure you are on the least invasive and best treatment for your condition(s).

Another tip is that anything mental health related should have it’s own long appointment (at least half an hour) from my perspective. If you know you need to talk to your doctor about something that is upsetting you, or are considering to see a psychologist, we need a longer time to be able to talk to you about this and assess it appropriately – so you have enough space to express, and we have enough to guide you to the next steps and make sure you are safe.

Likewise if you are pregnant or planning pregnancy – we have a lot to talk about especially in the initial visits!

If you are a new patient or seeing a new doctor, especially if you are on multiple medications or have a chronic pain or mental health condition, it is also better to book a long appointment.

It can be hard for us as doctors to say no when you bring multiple things to us, and we often do feel obliged, which isn’t a good thing!

It’s vitally important to remember any time gone over does comes out of your doctor’s break, home, exercise and loved one time.

In this vein, always book appointments for loved ones if you think they need to be seen too as fitting a child or a partner into the same consultation does not work well either in general, and from personal experience puts pressure on both appointments. This means things can be missed, overlooked or potentially rushed, not a situation anybody wants! In case of emergency and you both absolutely need to be seen at that day or time (always consider this) then it is always best to let staff know in advance so they can ask the doctor in advance, and potentially reschedule other patients around you so others don’t need to wait unnecessarily.

Another idea is to have multiple doctors in the same practice that you are familiar with, so if your preference is booked out on a given day you can see another one who may be free. In the same practice they will have access to your usual Drs records so may be able to support even though they aren’t you preferred doctor. You can even ask your usual Dr who they might recommend as a replacement if your usual GP is away or unavailable.

Now, I see a potential problem from your perspective in that you may not be able to book in the length of appointment you would like at the time that you would like, as GPs can often be quite busy. I recommend booking in advance as much as you can to support this. If it is the case you can’t book a long appointment when you absolutely need one, again ALWAYS phone to advise the receptionist that you are booking a short appointment, but likely need a longer one. Again, they may be able to reschedule other people around you.

Something to be open to is that your GP may also need to ‘triage’ if you bring in a list, and recommend something be brought a different day to deal with as their time is precious too, as much as they would like to help you on that day. Always give the full list at the beginning so we can see what might be more urgent and need to be dealt with that day, versus what can wait for another day if there is too much.

My sense is we can all do better to make our systems and days more efficient for everyone involved, ensuring the precious time you take to come in to see the doctor is met by a doctor who by and large feels like they have the space to treat you, and honour themselves too.

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