Working together to improve our experience in waiting rooms

Both clinics and patients can take steps to make wait times better

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by Jen Cueva |

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Picture yourself sitting in a waiting room at the doctor’s office, playing the waiting game. You’ve all been there, of course. How do you determine how long is too long to wait?

Your answers, unsurprisingly, may vary.

In an informal survey, I asked 15 people with pulmonary hypertension (PH) or other chronic and rare diseases to choose when they hit their limits. I suggested possible answers at five-minute intervals, with the shortest wait at 10 minutes. Thirteen respondents said they’d wait up to 45 minutes, though some mentioned that their answers would depend on the specialist they were seeing and the reason for their visit. My own answer depends on how I’m feeling that particular day.

Waiting rooms are no fun, but they become unbearable when we’re feeling downright awful. The wait can feel like an eternity!

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Based on my general observations, some patients despise waiting for even a few minutes; they’re impatient to handle their task and get on with their day. Others, however, are OK with waiting an hour for an appointment. I’m intrigued by how our perspectives on waiting differ.

No matter your preferences, we have ways to turn the wait into something less painful and more enjoyable.

The clinic staff can help with this; after all, they’re the ones responsible for creating a comfortable environment. Free Wi-Fi is always a plus, for instance, so we can use our devices. Offering TV and headphones to those waiting is also a help.

The waiting room environment can make a difference, too; some offices in sunny San Diego, where I live, have a beach or Southern California theme, which I find calming and relaxing. Other clinics choose much brighter colors and feel more like a child care center, which makes sense if the clinic offers pediatric care; a separate waiting area for children can also have toys or more to meet the kids’ specific needs and interests.

And hey, how about a beverage station? Just imagine the convenience of that, especially for those with timed medications. Remember the good old days before the pandemic, when clinics provided water and coffee? It’s a small gesture, but it can make a big difference.

Clinics can also set expectations by offering an estimated wait time and a friendly heads-up. Picture this: You arrive for an appointment, and the receptionist informs you that the doctor is running behind by 15 minutes. With those simple words, you don’t need to constantly check the time.

Now, let’s talk about us, the patients or caregivers, and what we can do to make our clinic visits better, aside from wait times. First, schedule appointments and arrive promptly. Then, check in at the front desk with insurance cards and co-payments ready. Need to fill out new-patient paperwork? Complete it online ahead of time or print it out and bring it along. My colleague Anna Jeter, a brilliant PH columnist, has other incredible insights on how to ease the stress of clinic days. I bet you’ll find her tips and suggestions valuable.

And get ready to rock your outfit! Dress comfortably and choose appropriate footwear for the day’s tests. If you’re up for a six-minute walk test, for instance, you can swap those flip-flops for sneakers. I prefer loose clothes and minimal jewelry when an echocardiogram is in the cards. And since waiting rooms are often chilly, carry a light jacket or sweater. Pro tip: Stash one in your vehicle, just in case.

But we can improve the waiting experience, too. Don’t forget to pack a light snack, such as peanut butter crackers or dried fruit and nut packs, to stay fueled, particularly if you’re taking a timed medication. Water bottles are a lifesaver, especially when there’s not a beverage station.

And to make things less mundane, why not bring something to stimulate your mind, like a book or magazine? Reading keeps us occupied without disturbing anyone nearby.

Working together with clinic staff, we can become more satisfied with our clinic visits, whatever the wait times are. Let’s team up for a smoother experience.

How can we minimize wait times or make the experience better? Let me know in the comments below.

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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