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What should you expect when you just can't make your appointment with your doctor on time? How you respect your doctor's time, and your doctor respects yours, tells you a lot about what you can expect for the results of care.

Some family practitioners report that they have heard every imaginable excuse for showing up late for an office appointment and some that aren't easily imaginable.

A sink hole opened up in front of my house. The President is in town and traffic is impossible. The Access-A-Ride van didn't pick me up and it took me an hour to find someone who would take off work to take me to your office. I thought it was fall forward and spring back. I let two Jehovah's witnesses into my apartment and they wouldn't leave. I got locked in the trunk by my son. I thought I was taking Prozac but it was Ex-Lax. I was abducted by aliens and I persuaded them to park their UFO outside. The dog ate my insurance card.

Typically, if you're late for your doctor's appointment, three things happen. First, you let the receptionist know you had a good reason. Then the receptionist informs you that you probably can't be seen today, and you reschedule. Then it's a tug of war between you and the receptionist over who will suffer more pain if the doctor doesn't see you today.

Arriving late is a sufficient problem for doctors that there have even been research studies on how to deal with the problem. These 117 studies offer some insight as to what helps patients who just can't make it to the doctor's office on time:

  • If you know you are going to be late, wear a watch. Displaying a time piece sends a signal that you care about time, your time, and the doctor's time. Conversely, if your doctor is chronically late, wearing a watch is a not entirely subtle hint that your time should also be respected.
  • If you have arrived late and your doctor sees you anyway, realize you may have to make clear that you will follow your doctor's instructions to get a good result. It's a natural conclusion from tardiness that you probably wouldn't take your medicine on time, either. If you are always late to your appointments, your doctor may lose confidence in treating you.
  • Wearing a watch has implications beyond sending a social signal that you make an effort to punctual. In our era of smart watches, wearing a watch conveys caring about health. If you really want to send your doctor a message about how you care about your health, find a way to mention that fitness app you have on the smart watch you wear to his or her office.

But even with all these nice social signals, there will be times that you simply can't be seen if you get to the doctor's office late. Doctors may have to see patients in hospital. They may have to do surgeries. They have required training and business meetings. If you arrive late when you have the last appointment of the day, you shouldn't expect your doctor to miss dinner with his or her family to accommodate you. The later in the day you have your appointment, the more critical it is for you to arrive on time. However, it doesn't always pay for the doctor to get tough on tardiness.

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