Time: the thorn in healthcare

  • Many patients go to their doctor for help but must wait days or weeks to schedule tests.
  • Wait times for tests can vary from a few days to weeks.
  • Patients are stressed waiting for test results.
  • Waiting for treatment can add costs to healthcare.

On her annual check-up visit to her primary care doctor, Heather mentioned that she was bothered by a nagging pain in her lower back. Her doctor wanted her to get some xrays, but scheduling the test took over three weeks. The xrays came back negative, but Heather’s pain worsened, so she had to make another appointment with her PCP, which took ten days. This time he ordered a MRI which took over ten days to schedule. However, Heather had to go to the ER because the pain was so bad she couldn’t sleep.

At the ER, she learned she had a kidney stone in her left kidney. She was hospitalized overnight and given some pain medications. She passed the stone but suffered for over three weeks while waiting for tests and their results. Welcome to American healthcare.

It is normal for patients to feel stressed when awaiting test results. The unknown can be a scary thing, and the fear of bad news can be overwhelming. This is especially true when the test is for a serious condition.

Here are some of the reasons why patients are stressed when awaiting test results:

  • Uncertainty: Not knowing what the results will be can be very stressful. Patients may worry about the worst-case scenario, even if the chances of that happening are low.
  • Fear of the unknown: Patients may fear what the results will mean for their health and future. They may worry about having to undergo treatment, or about the possibility of dying.
  • Loss of control: Patients may feel like they have lost control of their health and life. They may feel helpless and hopeless, waiting for the results to come in.
  • Impact on relationships: The stress of awaiting test results can also impact relationships. Patients may withdraw from loved ones or become irritable and short-tempered. This can strain relationships, both during the waiting period and afterward.

The time it takes for tests and treatment can be a major barrier to healthcare. This is especially true for people with chronic conditions or who need urgent care. Long wait times can lead to:

  • Deteriorating health: If a person does not receive timely treatment, their condition can worsen. This can lead to more serious complications and even death.
  • Increased pain and suffering: Waiting for tests and treatment can be very stressful and painful. This can worsen the condition and make it difficult to cope with the symptoms.
  • Financial hardship: People who wait for tests and treatment may have to pay more for their care. This can be especially difficult for people with low incomes or who do not have health insurance.
  • Loss of productivity: People who are sick and unable to get timely treatment may miss work or school. This can lead to financial hardship and make it difficult to keep up with their responsibilities.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to long wait times for tests and treatment, including:

  • Underfunding of healthcare: Many healthcare systems are underfunded, which can lead to staff shortages and a lack of resources. This can make it difficult to provide timely care.
  • Inefficient bureaucracy: Complex and inefficient bureaucracy can also lead to long wait times. This is especially true for people navigating the healthcare system to get the care they need.
  • Unnecessary tests and procedures: Sometimes, doctors order unnecessary tests and procedures, which can add to wait times. This can happen for several reasons, such as fear of liability or lack of knowledge about the best course of treatment.

There are a number of things that can be done to address the problem of long wait times for tests and treatment, including:

  • Increase funding for healthcare: This would allow healthcare systems to hire more staff and acquire more resources. This would make it possible to provide timely care to more people.
  • Streamline the bureaucracy: Healthcare systems can make it easier for patients to navigate the system by simplifying paperwork and reducing the number of steps patients need.
  • Educate doctors about best practices: Doctors can be educated about the most effective and efficient ways to diagnose and treat patients. This can help reduce the number of unnecessary tests and procedures ordered.
  • Empower patients to advocate for themselves: Patients can learn about their rights and how to advocate for themselves in the healthcare system. This can help them to get the care they need promptly.