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It isn’t uncommon to wait longer than you want for your healthcare provider to see you once you’re in the office. It is often frustrating, but perhaps this list of reasons why providers often run late will help ease the frustration next time you’re waiting in that little room by yourself.

Family physicians are in short supply.

There just aren’t enough doctors to go around. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates a shortage of physicians by the end of the next decade ranging between 40,000 and 121,000, depending on how many physician assistants and nurse practitioners are available. Though the United States has 2.3 doctors for every 1,000 people, many of those physicians are specialists. Even including specialists, the U.S. ranks 52nd in among nations for the number of physicians per 1,000 people, just ahead of Slovenia.

Some patients are late.

You might never be late, but not everyone arrives on time. All it takes is a couple of late arrivals early in the day to run behind all day.

Piling on.

It’s tempting to save on co-pays by piling more concerns onto the reason for your appointment. You know how it goes. “While I’m here could you look at……..and……and….” Each of those additional “ands” takes time from the patient waiting in the next room. Remember the doctor shortage? Seeing all the patients that need to be seen is why visits with your healthcare provider are so short and piling on is so detrimental.

It was a broken bone.

What might have looked like a sprain turned out to be a broken bone. Instead of a wrap, the patient needs a cast. There goes 30 minutes.

Incoming!! – phone, email, and fax.

While your health care provider is in the room with you, phone calls, faxes, and emails are piling up. Patients want to know, “Is this serious?” The pharmacy needs a prescription refilled. There’s an insurance form to fill out. Your provider is dealing with all those issues large and small while they aren’t in the room with you.


Speaking of insurance, the only thing worse than health insurance is no health insurance. Guess who is at work behind the scene helping you get the coverage you need.

Mental health emergencies.

A teenager with a history of self-harming isn’t doing well. A person is distraught and seems on the verge of suicide. Sometimes leaving the room on time isn’t an option.

“I’m sorry, but you have cancer.”

It’s really irritating to have your day “ruined” because you had to wait longer than you wanted. But on any given day, and on almost every day, there are patients whose lives are turned upside down and inside out because of the news they receive – the news they received just a moment before in the room next to yours…from the person you’ve been waiting to see.

This is about people helping people.

One last thing. Your doctor, PA, and/or nurse practitioner are people too. All the difficult appointments take a toll, as does worrying about their patients and making the hard decisions only they can make. Let’s remember that it’s a big load to carry.

This isn’t a complete list of the reasons we wait. But perhaps it’s just enough to help us all realize that there’s a lot more going on than we see or will ever know.


(This article was published in the Virginia Gay Hospital’s bi-annual publication, “Thrive” Fall/Winter 2018 issue. An online version of the entire publication can be found at https://myvgh.org/thrive/ )

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