Cooling your heels at doctors' offices
Being a Patient
Sick and Scared, and Waiting, Waiting, Waiting
By Gina Kolata for the New York Times, August 20, 2005
Waiting has long been part of medicine. ... but the waiting problem has only gotten worse. Advances in technology have created more tests and procedures to wait for, and new drugs and treatments mean more people need more doctor visits ... insurance companies reimburse doctors at lower rates than in the past, resulting in intense pressure to see large numbers of patients.An analyst is told: "Waiting times are not bad, waiting times are acceptable" and he comments: "It grows out of that insularity that we get to decide who waits and who doesn't."
Doctors assume, he explained, that the most efficient office is filled with waiting patients, like a company making sure its warehouses are always full. But companies have learned that there is a cost to keeping warehouses full. The same principle applies to doctors' offices.Studies of emergency rooms indicate that 40 percent of their patients wait longer than an hour to see a doctor; with waits for a bed, a scan, etc. patients end up waiting for hours, even a day.
People get mad, Dr. Murray said. And at some point, patients start to leave.
Hospitals worry about this, not because it causes patients to suffer, but because when they back up too spectacularly, incoming patients are diverted and the hospital loses the $2,000 to $3,000 each admitted patient brings in.
Pam Stephan ... went to her local hospital near collapse. ... Her oncology center had put her off for days before she could get an appointment. Once there, she waited for hours, and then learned that she was dangerously anemic. "Go to the hospital for a blood transfusion," she was told.
She arrived at the hospital at 5 p.m. ... by 2 a.m. she actually started the three-pint blood transfusion. She said by then she was so sick and so exhausted that "dying would have been too much trouble."
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