Fed up with long waits, patients start billing doctors

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: November 29th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It was the kind of blog post that gets shared on social media sites and quickly gets passed from one person to the next. A physician wrote about a friend who said she no longer accepted long waiting times at her doctor’s office. Instead, she informed the doctor’s staff that she was not going to pay her bill if her waiting time was more than 30 minutes. In fact, she planned to bill the doctor if her wait time exceeded 45 minutes.

It obviously struck a chord — the story wound up on CNN. With the current shortage of primary care doctors, waiting times can be long and frustrating.

While it’s unlikely a doctor’s office would allow a patient to refuse a bill because of a long wait, and even less likely to pay a patient for the lost time, physicians are keenly aware of the importance of customer service. As more and more people review and rate doctors online, it’s in the physician’s best interest to keep waiting times at a minimum.

Some doctors offer small gifts to thank their patients for being… well, patient. For example, one doctor distributes Starbucks gift cards if the waiting time exceeds 20 minutes.

Other doctors offer free wireless services and good cell phone connections in their waiting rooms so patients can stay connected to work. Some also send text messages to warn patients if they’re running behind.

Physicians say they do what they can to organize their practices to keep wait times at a minimum. But between the increased demand for primary care doctors and extensive paperwork requirements, it can be difficult to manage.

Some doctors say there’s little they can do until reform laws change the way they are reimbursed so they are paid for the quality of service they deliver, not the number of patients they see. Until that happens, here’s a tip for frustrated patients: Be sure to bring a book.