I have a busy obstetric practice. I endeavour to keep to appointment times and so patients are usually not having to wait to see me.  Because of this, I usually have an empty waiting room.

The origins of keeping to appointment times this go back to when my wife, Robyn, was pregnant. Her obstetrician was always running late. It was not unusual for her to have to wait one to even two hours for her to see him for brief antenatal visit. I had just started my obstetrician training. I decided back then that when I was an obstetrician, I would also endeavour not to keep patients waiting.

Time is precious. People have more things to do than having to wait a prolonged time for a brief medical appointment. I respect people have other commitments and so I always endeavour to keep to time with appointments. I believe my being on time ‘tells’ patients that they matter, and I care about them.

Sometimes patients having to wait is unavoidable. For instance, a patient may require longer than the allocated 15 minutes because of extra medical issues that need to be discussed at her appointment.

If I am called to the hospital for a delivery my secretary will phone patients who are due to attend and reschedule their appointments. How long a delivery takes is unpredictable and so I prefer appointments to be rescheduled than patients having to wait an unknown amount of time for me to return.

Being structured and organised and having a good secretary are the keys to being punctual and having an empty waiting room and busy practice.

I know colleagues who don’t worry about patients having to wait unnecessarily for prolonged time to see them. I believe some are poor time managers and for some it is deliberate. One colleague told me he wanted a full waiting as he believed it gave patients the impression he was very popular. When I covered for this obstetrician and saw his patients in his rooms while he was away I kept to time. as a consequence I found myself waiting to see his patients. They would arrive late for their appointments as they expected they would have to wait a long time if they arrived at their appointment time.

Another possible reason for doctors being habitually late and others having other wait for them repeatedly is that is gives them a sense of self-importance.

I remember a colleague surgeon who was a very poor time manager and disorganised. Each week keep his whole operating theatre crew waiting for usually an hour because would never be on time. My wife saw him as patient. She told me there were piles of patients notes on the floor around his desk in his office. His office was a mess and disorganised. I suspect he saw no problem with all this, or else he would have changed. I consider he had no respect for other people’s time. He was a good surgeon technically.

To keep to appointment times also requires patients to be on time. If a patient is late, it means when they attend, they are attending in a time slot allocated to another patient. It is not fair that the patients who are on time and whose appointments are at later times should be penalised and have to wait because a patient could not be bothered to be on time. Usually if a patient knows she will be late she phones and advised my secretary. By doing so we can endeavour to make sure her being late does not inconvenience other patients. Sometimes  this means rebooking her for another time slot.

I believe being on time important. It is being respectful of other people’s time and ‘tells’ patients that you care about them. It also ‘tells’ patients you are mentally organised and tidy, a good time manager and careful with clinical work. Patients tell me they are grateful for me always endeavouring to be on time.

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