Nova Scotia·health hacks

Why patient no-shows have a 'huge ripple effect' on the health-care system

Missing a doctors appointment might seem like a small thing, but health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton says it accounts for hours of wasted time, not only for doctors but for other patients, too.

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton shares her health hacks with CBC's Information Morning

While the government struggles to find an effective solution to the doctor shortage, Hampton says there's something you can do to help: stop missing appointments. (Shutterstock)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

Missing a doctor's appointment might seem like a small thing, but health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton says it accounts for hours of wasted time, not only for doctors but for other patients, too.

"I'm sure that there are many people who assume that if you just don't turn up the day will fill in and no one will really notice. But actually there is a huge ripple effect ... and ironically it contributes to everybody's wait time," she told CBC Nova Scotia's Information Morning.

A clinic in Halifax that kept getting no-shows decided to study the problem last year. It found that over the course of a month, more than 41 hours of appointment spots were missed, adding up to a week of a full-time doctor's time.

Mary Jane Hampton is CBC Information Morning's health-care columnist. (Robert Short/CBC)

A specialist in Newfoundland and Labrador conducted a similar study, and discovered patients were waiting 20 or 30 per cent longer than they needed to due to missed appointments.

"If they don't know that a patient isn't coming, then the people who are at the front desk are kind of trying to manage to see if someone is going to turn up and how they accommodate them, and if they do turn up late then it throws the rest of the schedule off," said Hampton.

"That difficulty translates into inefficiency and that inefficiency translates into longer wait times."

Communication is key

Hampton said she understands not all missed appointments can be avoided, especially when they're booked months into the future.

Still, she said there are a few simple things patients can do to help prevent a backup at the clinic: 

  • Call the clinic to cancel or change the appointment.
  • Give the clinic as much notice as possible so they can give your time to someone else or plan the day to recover some time.
  • If you're going to be more than 10-15 minutes late, a call goes a long way and gives staff a chance to shift appointments around.
  • When you're booking an appointment, don't be afraid to ask for a time that fits with your schedule. Most clinics will accommodate if a patient gives enough notice that they need a time early in the morning, over lunch or in the evening.
  • If you get one of those annoying letters in the mail from a specialist's office telling you what appointment slot you've been given, don't hesitate to call them back to reschedule if the time isn't good for you.

"When we talk about doctor shortages, absolutely we need to hire more," Hampton said. "Absolutely we need to make better use of the time of the ones we've got."


With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning


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