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There was an article in USA Today recently, describing how some physicians are spending less and less time with their patients at scheduled appointments.   The story began with a patient who saw her ear, nose and throat specialist recently for an acute sinus infection.  “He looked up my nose, said it was inflamed, told me to see the nurse for a prescription, and was gone.”  When she questioned the doctor’s choice of medication, “He just cut me off totally,” she said.  According to USA Today, stories like this are increasingly common.

Is it possible that this short-shrift some doctors are giving their patients will become the standard, and not the exception?   What is most troubling to me is that doctors and hospitals with previously-earned stellar reputations may be no different.  Is quality patient care taking a back seat to quantity patient care, even at the most recognized medical facilities?  In my opinion there is absolutely no credible justification whatsoever for such conduct by physicians.

A close friend of mine recently had an appointment at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Florida, which advertises it is “ranked No. 1 nationally in ophthalmology in U.S. News & World Report’s annual Best Hospitals rankings.”  The appointment was scheduled more than 1 month in advance, for 10 am on a Tuesday morning.  She traveled from her home to Bascom Palmer, a distance of almost 200 miles.  Upon arrival she was told there would be a 3 to 4 hour wait to see the doctor.  She asked how many patients were being seen by the doctor that day, and she was told “60 to 70.”  At 3:30 pm she was still waiting and asked how much longer the wait would be.  She was told that the doctor stays until all his patients are seen, which could be 9:00 pm or 9:30 pm.  She returned home without seeing the doctor.  On her way out another patient commented to her that he had a 7:30 am appointment and was still waiting.

60 or 70 patients in a day?  See the doctor at 9:00 pm for a 10 am appointment scheduled 2 months in advance?  How absurd is that?  Assuming the doctor starts his clinic day at 7:30 am and takes occasional bathroom and food breaks, optimistically leaving 10 hours to see patients if he stays until 9:30 pm, would mean he spends about 8.5 to 10 minutes on average with each of the 60 to 70 patients he sees (or less time with each patient if his day is less than 10 hours).  One must wonder how Bascom Palmer allows this to happen if it is truly concerned about quality patient care.

Perhaps quantity patient care, not quality patient care, is in fact becoming the standard.  And aren’t mistakes more likely to happen when quantity trumps quality?  Let’s hope not.  Perhaps only time will tell.

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