Unpredictability is the culprit behind late appointments at the doctors office

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Everyone has been in this situation. You make an appointment to see your doctor and head out early, just in case. You find yourself a seat in the crowded room and wait. And wait. And wait. The time for your appointment has come and gone and the room does not seem to be getting any emptier. Why does your appointment never start on time? Researchers at Brock have spent two years trying to find out.

Writing about their research in The Conversation, Brock Professor of Operations Management Kenneth Klassen and Associate Professor of Operations Management Reena Yoogalingam said that Canadians can wait about 10 weeks on average to see a specialist and may wait months for an appointment. The team says that their research “aims to improve appointment scheduling by better balancing these competing goals under various conditions.”

Their studies, which collected information from more than 650 patients, point to the unpredictability of medical care as the culprit for late appointments, rather than human error. Doctors and patients being late, they say, has very little impact on your late appointment.

“It’s easy to compensate for consistent lateness. If patients habitually arrive late, the clinic should schedule the appointments slightly earlier in the day. If physicians always start late, set the appointments a bit later. But patient and physician timings often vary randomly,” said the team. Their goal is to come up with a system that will limit the amount of late appointments by spreading them out through the day, but in a way that compensates for specific types of lateness. Their research came up with two solutions. The first would load appointments at the beginning and end of the day, spreading them out more in the middle of the times to compensate for any lateness. The second would create small clusters of appointments but with space between the clusters.

As peak flu season approaches in February, Doctor’s offices may become even more crowded.

Each year, Health Canada tries to predict flu numbers for the season. The organization bases their assessment on what has been going on in Australia during their own winter months. This year, the continent was hit with a record-level flu season.

In their most recent weekly flu update, entitled “Flu Watch,” Health Canada says that flu rates are higher than usual for this time of year.

“Overall, influenza activity in Canada remains high but there is some indication that activity is starting to slow down,” writes the organization. Rates for influenza A—H1N1 and H3N2 viruses fall into this category – have remained steady this season. Rates for influenza B, the slightly less harmful, though still potentially dangerous category, are increasing accounting for 40 per cent of flu detections for the week of January 14 to 20. This year’s vaccine may not protect against Influenza B or the H3N2 strain of influenza A, which may cause people who already had their flu shot this year to get sick anyway.

Though you may still have some immunity from last year’s flu vaccine, it may still be a good idea to get your shot. It may prevent you from getting the flu entirely during peak flu season and it may lessen the severity of your symptoms. Most importantly, it may prevent you from passing it on to others who are unable to get the vaccination.

Despite the desire to head in to see the doctor this flu season, it may not help. Treatment recommendations for the flu, according to Health Canada, are still rest, fluids, symptom abating over-the-counter medications, and staying home so you don’t spread the virus. Those who are at high risk may be prescribed antiviral treatments. There is a point when you should go to the hospital though, and Health Canada recommends doing so if you cannot catch your breath, have trouble keeping fluids down, if you are too weak to stand up for any period of time, or if you are coughing up blood. Health Canada also notes in their weekly report that “the majority of confirmations, hospitalizations and deaths have been among adults 65 years of age or older.”


Student Health Services accepts appointments by phone (x3243) or in person at Harrison Hall between 8:45 a.m and 4:30 p.m. They also run urgent care walk-in clinics at the Campus Pharmacy in the morning, and at the Harrison Hall location in the afternoon.

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