Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why do doctors make patients wait?

It’s quite common to see patients waiting for hours on end to see senior doctors in India today. The very busy doctors are extremely busy and their waiting rooms are packed full of patients and worried relatives. The irony is that patients are extremely unhappy about having to wait so long in order to see a doctor for just a few minutes of his attention.

However, if patients are so unhappy , why do they continue to put up with this ? And how do doctors get away with such terrible behavior? The only reason doctors can afford to make patients wait is because patients are willing to wait - so the key question is - why do patients wait so long in order to see a famous brand-name doctor ?

It's not as if there is a shortage of doctors in India. There are lots of extremely well qualified experienced expert doctors , many of whom have started practice after training overseas for many years and are therefore well qualified. However, they don't have many patients at all. So why don't patients go to see these technically competent doctors , rather than wait for hours on end to see the “ famous “ doctors.

Let’s start by accepting that patients are rational , and that there is a good reason that they do this. It's a question of managing their perceived risk. Patients are worried when they are sick , and they want to make sure that they get the best possible medical care. According to them , the best way of getting this care is by going to the right doctor - the one who has the most experience and who can help them to fix the problem. The only way they know of finding the right doctor is by asking around , and since there are very few doctors who have this reputation of being the very best , these are the doctors whom all patients then seek out !

Because there are so many patients waiting to meet such few doctors , and the doctor has only a few hours in a day when he can be productive , patients need to wait for hours on end to see him. The question then arises – What can the young expert doctor do in order to attract some of these patients from the older more senior doctors ?

What they need to do is to reduce the risk in the patient's perception by being able to convince the patient that they are experts ; and know what they're talking about. Now this can be extremely hard to do , because there's so much at stake here . It maybe a question of the patient's life, which is why patients are very reluctant in order to go to new doctors who don't have a brand-name & would rather stick with the senior brand name doctors , simply because of their reputation.

One thing which young doctors can do is set up websites , where they can inform patients and their relatives about their experience and expertise , so that it becomes easier for patients to be able to find out who the available experts are ; and what kind of expertise they have. Of course just putting up a website is not enough. I think the one important thing doctors need to offer is a free second opinion online , so that patients can actually test and try out the doctors medical expertise by judging the quality and timeliness of his answers, without experiencing any risk.

The patient can ask questions by submitting his medical documents and records online, which the doctor can then review and provide a second opinion on . Since this doesn't involve traveling on the part of the patient and he doesn't actually have to physically hunt for a doctor or travel many hours in order to find the doctor , it's quite easy for him to be able to get many second opinions. Once he has more than one opinion , he's then in a better position to judge the experience and the expertise of the Doctor.

Doctors who are helpful and are willing to explain and answer questions will obviously start standing out , and will be able to build trust and confidence in patients that they are the right doctor for them – that they are professionals who know what they're talking about. This actually makes a lot of sense for the new doctors as well. They are not very busy , which means they have enough time on their hands; and they can invest this time in order to reach out to patients and try to help them . It’s something which they can do quite easily , because they are doing it online , so it doesn't consume much of their time either .

In the long run , it will be possible for them to attract patients from the senior more experienced brand-name doctors to their own clinics ; and this is a simple way of allowing the services of doctors to be more uniformly distributed amongst patients , so that patients don't have to wait extremely long hours in order to just see the “ top names “ doctors.

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