The Value of Time

Our appointment was for 12:20 p.m. I brought my daughter to her pediatrician at 12:10 as requested, to update our insurance information she’d told me on the phone. I returned the clipboard of paperwork required by 12:15. The clerk gave me back my insurance card, and I sat with my daughter in the ‘well’ section of the waiting area.

Fifteen minutes later I got up to ask how far behind they were running. The clerk narrowed her eyes on mine and curtly replied the doctor would be available shortly.

My 8 year old was in tears, had been crying since I let it slip she might need a cast if she’d broken her wrist when she fell at skateboard camp. An hour under ice and she still had some swelling, so I called her doctor. She sat in the waiting area staring at the fish tank repeating, I don’t want a cast!

I kept telling her to see what the doctor said—could be a bad sprain, no worries yet. But it was a tense 15 minutes more waiting until someone finally called us into the back.

They had my daughter sit on the crinkly paper that lined the examination table and I sat in the only chair in the small antiseptic space. The attendant asked me some general questions about what happened and confirmed it with my daughter as she took notes, then left the room.

Fifteen minutes later I went looking for someone, anyone to tell me when we’d be seeing her doctor. A matronly nurse-type woman said the doctor was due anytime and I should wait with my daughter. I went back into the exam room and read her magazines, looked in drawers, engaged in random banter for what seemed a very long time.

1:30 the doctor tapped lightly on the door and entered.

Early 50’s, casual, stylish, calm. Without apology, she immediate began examining my daughter’s arm as she asked the same questions as the woman before. In five minutes the doctor assessed my daughter required x-rays, and recommended I take her to the hospital up the road to get them. Their corporate medical facility of over a dozen doctors didn’t have in-house x-ray. As she wrapped my daughter’s arm, she informed me the splint, $50, was not covered under insurance and would be billed to me.

We arrived at the hospital at 2:00. We waited for ‘check in’ (apparently even out-patients have to), until 2:25. Fifteen more minutes with an admitting clerk (and signing no less than 10 documents), my daughter and I were allowed to wait in Radiology another 30 minutes.

3:10 they finally ushered us back for x-rays. Took less than five minutes for four images. We were instructed to go back to the waiting room until the technician had a chance to consult with the on-staff doctor, who then would call my daughter’s doctor and consult on the next step.

3:30 the desk clerk handed me a phone through the open glass partition. My daughter’s doctor informed me she’d made an appointment with an orthopedic specialist, as the x-ray showed evidence of a break.

On top of supremely annoyed, I was suddenly extremely worried. Till that moment I’d assumed my daughter's injury wasn’t serious. She had cried only just after the fall, then not at all over pain. She’d claimed it didn’t hurt unless she bent it in one particular way, and it never swelled extensively.

The orthopedist appointment was for 4:10. We got there at 4:00. I asked the desk clerk how long the wait and she said there was none. They’d bring my daughter back as soon as I finished filling out their paperwork.

4:10 I handed the clerk back her clipboard with everything completed and signed.

4:20 I went back up to the desk and asked how long it would be until my daughter was seen. We’d been from one place to another, waited upwards of four hours already and would like to get home as soon as possible, I implored. The clerk told me to take a seat and they’d call us back soon.

4:30 my daughter was back to crying, exhausted, scared. So was I. My blood started to boil. I went back up to the desk and asked rather loudly how late they anticipated they were running today. Perhaps I could take my daughter to get something to eat? But the clerk insisted they ‘prefer’ the patient be available when called and requested we stay in the waiting area.

4:35 a heavyset nurse-type woman called my daughter’s name to come back, and set her up in a large examining/stock room.

4:50 I went looking for someone, anyone to find out what was taking the doctor so long. The heavy nurse told me they needed more x-rays as the hospital hadn’t taken all that the doctor required. Another 10 minutes passed before someone came to take my daughter to get them.

5:00 p.m. New x-rays were taken on their in-house equipment and we were escorted back to the exam room and told the doctor would be in once he reviewed the x-rays.

5:25, and my daughter and I were still waiting for the doctor. A nurse or two stopped by to retrieve supplies and assured us the doctor was coming but couldn’t say when.

5:40 the doctor strolled in. Mid 40’s, slender, almost graceful as he moved to my daughter and looked at her wrist. Again, no apology for the wait. Not even an excuse. He pulled up the x-rays on the monitor and summarized my daughter’s wrist was broken and she needed a cast, which provoked a new round of her tears. The orthopedist gave specific care instructions, offered a waterproof cast for $30 extra, which insurance didn’t cover. I accepted. He left. Another white coat entered, 50’s, Indian, and he put on the cast.

6:00 p.m. I stood by the front desk securing another appointment in three weeks for a check-up. The cast was scheduled to be on six weeks.

My check-up appointment was for 1:00 p.m.

We didn’t see the doctor until 2:20.


I can’t recall a doctor’s appointment in the last five years where I didn’t have to wait at least 15 minutes or more. Usually a lot more.

I’ve waited over an hour and a half to see my gynecologist. I wait at least half hour or more every appointment I have with my new OB.

My son went to see a dermatologist and we waited over an hour to be seen. We’d scheduled a regular appointment two months earlier. The doctor requested we schedule a follow-up appointment after the exam. Two weeks later we waited over 45 minutes until I told the desk clerk we had no more time to blow and left. They sent us a cancellation fee of $50.

My daughter had her cast removed yesterday. Our appointment was for 1:00 p.m., promised as the slot most likely to be on time, the first seen after lunch. Waiting room was empty but they called us in at 1:15. They cut the cast off in 3 minutes around 1:30. We waited to talk to the doctor until 2:10. He showed us her new x-rays, how her bone had grown, assured us all was good, shook my hand and left.

I’ve yet to get an apology, but the canonical excuse when I demand an explanation for blowing away my time: ‘Doctors have emergencies which throws off their schedule,’ generally followed by the evil eye of the clerk for my questioning or complaining.

I’m sorry. It’s not statically possible that every time I’m made to wait at a doctor’s office, they’re always late from attending emergencies. Whatever their excuse, if they bother to give one, we tolerate wasting hours of our time waiting on doctors and related medical appointments. We expect it, really. And the medical community blatantly exploits this by overbooking. My daughter’s orthopedist even has a sticker on his door proudly announcing they have wifi.

What is your time worth?

As I see it, my son’s dermatologist owes me somewhere close to $200 bucks for my time, and infinite patience.

Even with full PPO coverage by a major carrier, our out-of-pocket for my daughter’s mishap will come close to a grand from all the ancillary costs and deductibles insurance won’t cover. Hard as this is to swallow over a simple broken wrist, we also lost close to eight hours of our lives, virtually a full work day, adding up the time waiting to be seen.

Time is all we really own.

Appointments are agreements, contracts of service for a specific time. Perpetually late people are not only breaking their agreement, but essentially stealing part of your life. My mom’s last years she spent many long afternoons for Chemo at Kaiser. Collectively, she lost more than six months in a depressing, windowless room with 20 other cancer patients—waiting. The actual drip took less than half an hour.


Cygnet Brown said...

I distinctly recall an incident where an attorney waited in a doctor's office for 2 hours one afternoon. He sued. He won. I doubt he's had to wait for another doctors appointment since.

J. Cafesin said...

We should get a class action going! I'm in. Anyone else?