Waiting Room Survival Kit - Activities to Combat Boredom

How to Make Waiting for Your Doctor a Bit Easier

people in waiting room with dad checking his watch
Check out these activities to ease boredom in the doctor's waiting room. istockphoto.com

 Why a Waiting Room Survival Kit?

An 8-year-old girl told her mom “A boy in my class played doctor with me.”                 Thinking the worst, the mom asked nervously, “What did he do?"  The young girl said, “Nothing mom.  He made me wait for 45 minutes and then double billed my insurance company.”                                                                           -Author unknown

Cartoonists and comedians have had much to say about the long wait times in the doctor’s office.

And as is the case with many jokes, there is some truth behind these witticisms. A 2014 study found that the average wait time in a doctor's office in the U.S. is 20 minutes, 16 seconds -- and getting longer.

At first glance, you may ask why doctors can't be on time—for  example, as an attorney or accountant would be on time for an appointment. One of the problems is urgency and unpredictability. If you haven't finished going over your taxes, you can make another appointment in a week. Not so with a bloody nose, severe belly ache, or with a baby who chooses to be born at that moment.  

It's sometimes even the case that a long wait time is a good sign. When I had patients who were moving to another city, I'd recommend that they call their neighborhood clinic and ask for the doctor who gets the most backed up. While it's not always the case, it could be that the doctor who falls furthest behind during the day is the one who is most compassionate and thorough.

 

Okay. But while waiting for your doctor to take extra time with another patient (and hoping she will likewise give you extra time when you need it,) what are some ways in which you can fill your time?

Enjoyable Activities

Instead of focusing on "losing" time, view your wait as an opportunity to do something you enjoy—something you wouldn't ordinarily do in a normal work day.

  • Take time to crack the spine of that novel you’ve been meaning to read. Don’t worry that you aren’t accomplishing anything (if you tend to be a doer.) You are enjoying a few moments of pleasure that you deserve, and that's important!
  • Visit with another patient.  Do you see anyone who looks lonely or anxious? Ask first, as the patient you notice may not wish to talk. On the other hand, it's surprising how fast a long wait time can slide by when you are taking the time to listen to someone who is lonely.
  • Bring a friend to talk with. I realize it's not a coffee shop, but a doctor's waiting room can actually be a good time to talk without interruptions—that is unless your doctor is on time.

Practical Activities

What are some activities that you dread and are always putting off? Using your wait time to address one of these chores not only makes the wait go faster but can free you up when you return home to your family. On the other hand, what are some things you would like to do (limited by the confines of a waiting room) but haven't been able to justify the time it takes (for example, playing with your phone?) Here's a few ideas: 

  • Write a letter. (This is my favorite.) Is there a letter you’ve been meaning to send but just haven’t gotten around to?  Pack stationary, cards, and your address book—even stamps so you can mail the letter on your way home so it doesn't get lost.  Keep in mind that in this day of email, people still appreciate receiving snail mail cards and letters. Here are some ideas on individual details that can make that letter to a friend extra special.
  • Balance your checkbook.
  • Work on your taxes.
  • Take a nap.  First, let the receptionist know you may be sleeping so you don’t miss your appointment
  • Make a master to-do list.  Make a list of household things that need to be done, purchased, or repaired. Or check for grocery list apps for the iPhone.
  • Do your daily devotional or a meditation.
  • File and/or polish your fingernails.
  • In a waiting room recently a patient asked me, "What is icloud?" Even if you've forgotten to bring a book or writing materials, you will usually have your phone. If you have a smart phone,  learn how to use functions that you aren't familiar with, organize your email or photos into folders, or hunt for new and interesting apps. If you only have a "short" wait, perhaps check out these 5 best Web Sites for Cheap and Free Ringtones.

Humorous Activities

If you are really bored, it may help to resort to some humor. Consider these ideas: 

  • Bond with your children by observing other patients in the waiting room and comparing them to your favorite cartoon characters (do this discretely.)
  • For adults, play with the toys in the children’s section of the waiting room.

What to Pack in Your Waiting Room Bag

If you only see your doctor once a year, it’s probably not worth the trouble of packing a waiting room bag. But if you happen to have several visits, for example, follow-up visits, consultations, second opinions, or chemotherapy visits, keeping a bag ready may ease the frustration of waiting. Consider packing some of these items:

  • The book you’ve been meaning to read. Make sure to pack a bookmark as well.  
  • Your address book.
  • Stationery and cards, stamps.
  • Your favorite pen.
  • Your knitting or crochet supplies.
  • A lightweight blanket if you get cold. I’ve spent time in more than one waiting room that rivaled my refrigerator in cooling capacity.
  • Crossword puzzles or sudoku.
  • An iPod.
  • Chargers for your phone/ipod/ipad.
  • A water bottle and snacks. Choose snacks you can keep packed and ready such as granola bars.
  • Going through chemotherapy can mean multiple wait times along with side effects that require extra caution. Check out this essentials list of what to pack for chemotherapy.

Waiting with Children

Waiting with children can be much more difficult than waiting alone. Consider the appetite and attention span of the typical child. Many waiting rooms provide toys and books, but it can be helpful to pack your own bag. You likely know what activities will keep your child's attention the longest, and if it's during flu season, or if anyone in the family has an immune system that's suppressed, you may wish to avoid the germs that live on waiting room toys (though, surprisingly, toys and books in waiting rooms are less "germy" than I would expect.) Here are a few ideas for items I've used to entertain my own children.

  • Handheld electronic games.
  • Your phone (or theirs.)
  • An iPad.
  • Water or juice, healthy snacks such as granola, cut up fruit.
  • Coloring book and crayons or colored pencils. (Buying a new coloring book or markers and wrapping them in pretty paper can make this extra special.)
  • Books.
  • Small toys such as action figures.
  • Play I spy. If you’ve forgotten how this goes, you say "I spy" and your child tries to identify what you are looking at. For example “I spy something that is green and loves water” (an office plant.)  

Next Step:

Now that you have activities to keep you busy while waiting, what should you bring with you to make your visit go smoothly? Check out these tips on what to bring to doctor's visits, as well as how to avoid long wait times.

Waiting Room Survival Kit for People With Cancer

If you're living with cancer, you might begin to think that you spend more time in waiting rooms than at home. Here are some tips on how to prepare for your oncology visits.

Sources:

Arroll, B., Alrutz, S., and S. Moyes. An exploration of the basis for patient complaints about the oldness of magazines in practice waiting rooms: cohort study. 2014. 349:g762.

Shortest Average Wait Time for Doctors in Major Cities Increased One Minute Year Over Year. Business.com. March 26, 2014.

Wible, P. Waiting Room Remedy: Doctor Pays for Delays (The Doctor's Perspective.) Journal of Participatory Medicine . 2012 Jan 11.

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