Cherie Kerr sat in the doctor's office for four hours as she waited for the nurse to call her name. As a freelance writer in 1969, Kerr missed four hours of her hourly wage that day. Upon receiving her hospital bill, Kerr refused to pay it. The move set off a lifetime of standing her ground, refusing to pay, and sometimes billing her doctors, when they kept her waiting too long.
"I know if I sit there, I'm going to get really mad, and then I'm not polite," said Kerr, 67, of Santa Ana, Calif.
Now, in an attempt to avoid such standoffs, Kerr makes sure her appointments are slotted for first thing in the morning, or for the first time slot after lunch.
"I know doctors have emergencies, but if the doctor keeps you waiting for hours, that's wrong," Kerr said. "Anytime I choose a new doctor, I shop around to find out how their office runs, and whether they respect my patient rights about time."
Most people have been in a situation similar to Kerr's, watching the minutes slowly tick by, waiting waiting waiting for their names to be called. And some have refused to waste anymore time in waiting rooms without something to show for it, such as compensation for their time.
"I think this is a fantastic idea, especially when the doctor is clearly in the wrong," said Dr. Pamela Wible, a family physician in Eugene, Ore., who gives her patients gifts of lotions or soaps if she's running more than 10 minutes late for an appointment. "This is about mutual respect. It's time to do this."
Other doctors have followed the same path as Wible by offering gift cards, presents or even cold hard cash if they leave their patients waiting too long. Other offices keep patients abreast of the doctors' schedules by calling or sending text messages when running late.
But Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and author of the "Baby 411," said that billing a doctor or writing a scathing blog post may make a person feel better, but it is not solving the problem.
"The answer is to be an empowered consumer -- and find a new doctor and write a brief note to the doctor to explain why you are leaving the practice," said Brown. "A successful medical practice relies on satisfied patients who, in turn, refer their friends and family members. When enough patients leave due to excessive waits, the physician and the practice should reassess their business model."
Experts noted that there are several reasons why physicians run behind schedule, and most of those are caused by the unpredictable nature of health care. Patients can cause delays by misrepresenting the reason for their visit, adding on complaints, arriving late to the appointment or being unprepared for the visit, Wible said.
And Brown said that many doctors run behind schedule because they "try to address the needs of each patient, and some patients come in sicker than anticipated, need more care [or] need to be hospitalized. It's not because we are enjoying a latte, schmoozing with other doctors and watching the news in the breakroom."