USA TODAY columnist Steven Petrow offers advice about living in the Digital Age.

Does anything irk you more than making a doctor’s appointment, arriving on time and then just sitting there? And sitting some more?

According to the health care consultants Press Ganey, the average doctor’s office waiting time is 23 minutes, which means that half of our appointments start even later. This seriously annoying problem is not always the fault of physicians, their medical practices or their institutions. But it’s certainly true that in just about any other profession, results like these would be fatal for business.

Part of the problem seems to be that so many physicians are late adopters of the technologies and devices that can streamline waiting times and improve patient communication. Dr. Rob Melendez, a New Mexico ophthalmologist, told me that in medicine, “patient wait time is the biggest complaint.” He’s one of a growing group of medical providers who have discovered through trial and error that new technologies make a big difference.

Tom Lee, MD, founder and CEO of One Medical Group is another. “Physicians who are older are more likely to be entrenched in a paper-based practice or have built up processes and systems that support their current practice style,” said Lee, whose company offers a high-tech patient experience (with a required membership fee on top of any other health insurance premiums and deductibles). “Younger physicians … tend to be more facile with technology and can come up with more creative workarounds despite the clunky software,” he explained.

More than 90 percent of patients reported that they’d prefer to see a doctor who uses email to contact them instead of the phone, according to a new study. While only 6.7 percent of physicians routinely used email with their office patients. That’s a problem.

With an answer: Take ophthalmologist Melendez, whose practice, one of 14 clinic sites in Eye Associates of New Mexico, started using an electronic record system in 2005. Melendez’s clinic was chosen as a beta site because at 35 he was the youngest doc on staff and the researchers assumed he’d pick it up more quickly. And he did, telling me ten years later that he’s “the guy who has the latest tech gadget.” He uses his tablet in the office, regularly emails with patients and has an active social media presence.

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” Melendez told me. “So how do you prevent yourself from becoming an old dog?” Learn new tricks.

Of course, not all younger doctors are tech-friendly and not all older ones are tech wary. But in choosing a primary care provider or specialist, be sure to factor in — along with credentials, experience and health insurance plans — just how much an office has modernized and digitized.

Ask the office manager — or better, hope to find it on a website — whether the doctor uses electronic records, allows for online scheduling, has a mobile app, will email or Skype with you, or has digital intake forms that you can complete at home before your appointment, saving everyone gobs of waiting time.


— Seek out medical practices that have adopted new technologies, likely saving everyone time and helping to keep doctors on time for their appointments.

— Take the first appointment of the day or the one right after lunch when it’s less likely for the doctor to be running late.

— Be on time. Nothing throws the schedule off like a late patient, especially if that person has to fill out insurance or intake forms before seeing the doctor.

— If you can’t get the first appointment of the day, call – or email — ahead to find out if the office is running behind. If so, ask what time to come in.

What’s your experience been waiting for the doctor? Do you have any tips? Let me know in the comment section.

Submit your question to Steven at You can also follow Steven on Twitter: @StevenPetrow. Or like him on Facebook at

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