The 15 Minute Appointment – Ramya Kolagani

We have all experienced going to a scheduled doctor’s appointment only to have to wait an eternity for the physician to see to us. It can be frustrating when we have a million other things to do that day, but the problem is actually much deeper than inconvenience—it is a sign of one of the biggest inherent flaws of our health-care system: the prevalence of the “15-minute appointment”.

Recently, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal condemning the briefness of the majority of appointments, and I thought it rose some valuable points that should be brought to attention so that the public is more aware of the problem. The biggest negative of the 15-minute appointment is, unsurprisingly, that the doctor is not allowed ample time to intimately discuss the patient’s issues, and as a result the patient does not get the care he or she needs. The resulting failure affects both parties: it can come in the form of misdiagnosis, wrongly prescribed medications, and burnout for the physician. In fact, the article states that in 2014, a full 54% of physicians met the criteria for burnout. The problem is also worsening, as only three years ago this figure was 10% lower. Doctors become more and more tired as they run around chasing their rigorous patient schedules, and then are not fully present and capable of treating the people they do see to the best of their abilities. Brilliant medical minds are being wasted if they are not provided time to think, and patients are suffering in the process.

What is the force propagating the 15-minute appointment, and why isn’t the problem obvious to everyone? Why are we allowing this to continue? If you asked me, I would say that it points to a systemic greed that is present in American health care. The incentive is to see as many patients in as short a time as possible, to write as many prescriptions and squeeze in as many co-pays. On the one hand, I do understand that health care is an industry. But on the other hand, delaying the instant gratification that comes from sheer numbers of payments will actually improve the economics of health care from the status quo. When patients are misdiagnosed because they barely had any time to explain the problem, they come back. Another or a different medication has to be prescribed. This costs more resources that didn’t need to be used, and it costs more valuable appointment time each time a patient has to return because they don’t feel any better.

I like to think that each doctor makes the choice to study and practice medicine because there is an empathy in them that leads them to believe that their calling is to care for others and provide the suffering with relief. Although this may be excessively idealistic, I think a good amount of physicians do possess this spirit, and so we should let them realize exactly that goal. Truly good doctors genuinely don’t want to halfheartedly care for patients, but there is not much of an alternative–they are not allowed to sit down, really talk to their patients as people, and help them feel better. This is why the 15-minute appointment should be done away with—for the health of our doctors, our patients, and our entire health care system.

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