Many internal and external factors impact the quality of care a patient receives when visiting the doctor. How much time the doctor spends with a patient during the visit is one such factor. Research shows that the time of day a patient visits a doctor is another.
According to NPR, a 2021 study revealed that patients who saw their doctors later in the day were more likely to receive certain types of prescriptions than patients seen in the morning. These prescriptions include potentially dangerous and addictive opioid medications. A separate study also showed that doctors are less likely to conduct cancer screenings and other important tests during appointments that take place later in the day.
Some believe the quality of medical care suffers later in the day because these late-afternoon appointments feel more rushed than earlier ones. Health care providers may have obligations to their children or families that have them watching the clock, rather than keeping a close eye on patients.
When doctors prescribe opioids, there is a much higher chance of a patient developing an addiction to the medication than there is if that doctor prescribes ibuprofen or physical therapy. Yet, patients seen during earlier hours are more likely than those seen later to receive prescriptions for less serious, less-addictive drugs. Also, doctors are less likely to conduct stool tests for colon cancer or other types of health screenings later in the day. This indicates that these patients are less likely to receive timely and accurate health diagnoses.
Some health care employers are taking steps to reduce issues associated with later appointments by having someone other than a patient’s primary care doctor conduct cancer and other important screenings.