Nobody likes to be kept waiting. It can be a sign of disrespect, though not always. Louis XVIII of France said that punctuality is the politeness of kings, but it seems difficult to provide in a medical environment. Businessmen may be able to keep their meetings on time, but those meetings are relatively long and have a set agenda. A GP “surgery” will comprise 15 or more consultations lasting little more than 10 minutes each. Patients may bring as much or as little material as they wish, and the doctor will probably have his own tasks that he wants to perform. Intimate examinations that require extra time may become necessary. Hospital staff may need to be contacted immediately (though never swiftly). And of course there may be interruptions of various sorts. So it is little wonder that GPs tend to run late.
Some GPs keep to time fairly well, and I suspect that they keep a firm hold on proceedings in order to do so. Their patients must be kept on a tight rein. In our practice we cut our patients a little more slack, and consequently tend to run late. That is the sort of practice we are. In a town people can choose their GP practice to some extent, and we tend to retain patients who like our way of doing things and lose those who are frustrated by it.
Recently I saw two patients who illustrated this quite well. The first was a new patient, who is used to a high degree of respect in his job . I was running 20 minutes late when I saw him, which I consider to be pretty good going by the second half of the morning. He looked bothered and his first comment was that we would have to be quick because he had another appointment to get to. However he seemed to relax a little during the consultation and appreciate the way I dealt with his problem, although he rushed off as soon as we had finished. I hope he will eventually decide that the sort of consulting we provide is worth allowing a little more time in his busy schedule.
The second was a mother with her young child. I didn't really recognise her since I see lots of mothers with young children, but it turned out that she remembered me. Her child was almost the last patient I saw at the end of a busy Monday morning surgery, and they had been waiting for over an hour. I felt bad to have kept them waiting so long, and I apologised as we walked down the corridor together. The unexpected and totally charming reply was “that's alright, we don't mind waiting to see you, Dr Brown”.
The more I think about it, the more delighted I am by her response.