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I arrive on time but end up waiting to see my doctor. Why? Add to ...

The question: Why are doctors always running late? I’m frustrated when I’m made to wait upward of 45 minutes for them. Is there a good reason why this happens so often?

The answer: You may have taken time off work, found child care or navigated rush-hour traffic to make it on time to your appointment. So when you arrive promptly, waiting 10, 15 or 45 minutes for your doctor can be troubling, especially when you’ve done your part to meet the appointment time. To top it off, when you’re feeling under the weather, every minute you’re waiting feels much longer.

No doctor likes running behind, and most try to keep on time out of respect for patients’ schedules and busy lives. But even with the best of intentions, we end up running behind due to unpredictable circumstances. While it’s not meant to be an excuse, understanding the common reasons for why your doctor runs late may help to deal with the stress of waiting.

I recently had a day in my clinic that highlighted why doctors can run behind. The day started smoothly, with my first four appointments being straightforward follow-ups.

While preparing to see my fifth appointment, I received a call from a specialist about a patient that had just been admitted to hospital. Already, I was running 10 minutes behind.

I was able to catch up with my next patient, who had a simple prescription-refill request. I saw a few more patients on time, but then our nurse informed me there were two urgent walk-in patients who needed to be seen quickly. I fit them in before my booked appointments, but that put me behind again by 25 minutes.

My next patient, a first-time mom with a newborn, arrived late due to challenges with transit and her stroller. Finally, my last patient did not come for their appointment. But even with this extra time, the morning ended 20 minutes late and into lunch hour.

The afternoon started out smoothly, but because I was the “on-call” doctor covering for my colleagues who were away, I also saw five urgent walk-ins. Later, one of my patients with severe depression needed more time to review support options, so I spent the extra time with him to properly address his needs. Even though I had blocked off time for potential walk-ins, I still ran behind by 15 minutes at day’s end.

Those are some of the well-intentioned reasons why we may run late at my practice. Your own doctor might prefer to spend more time with each patient and run behind that way. Or, in a large practice, they may double- or even triple-book patient spots to accommodate everyone, and they inevitably run late.

The time of year also influences how late your doctor may run, with the cold-and-flu seasons of fall and winter being busier times than summer months.

Most doctors’ offices do have mechanisms in place to deal with these unforeseen circumstances. But even with preparation, there will be days that we run behind.

To avoid the frustration of a late start to your appointment, consider booking the first spot of the morning (there are likely no fit-ins for urgent care at that time) or the first after lunch. Hopefully you can then be in and out of the doctor’s office in a timely manner.

Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe is the medical director at the Immigrant Womens’ Health Centre.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail’s Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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