Doctors seek ways to put waiting-room time to work for your health

In this July 12, 2012 photo, two women wait in an exam room at Nuestra Clinica Del Valle, in San Juan, Texas. About 85 percent of those served at the clinic are uninsured. Texas already has one of the nation’s most restrictive Medicaid programs, offering coverage only to the disabled, children and parents who earn less than $2,256 a year for a family of three. Without a Medicaid expansion, the state’s working poor will continue relying on emergency rooms _ the most costly treatment option _ instead of primary care doctors. The Texas Hospital Association estimates that care for uninsured patients cost hospitals in the state $4.5 billion in 2010. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

WASHINGTON — A recent study in the American Journal of Managed Care found that people spend an average of 87 minutes in the doctor’s waiting room — more than the time to travel to and actually see the doctor combined. Is there a way to make use of that time?

Sally Squires, who writes the Lean Plate Club™ blog, told WTOP that a George Washington University doctor set out to find whether time in the waiting room can be used to help educate patients.

Endocrinologist Mark Sklar, who treats people with Type 2 diabetes, teamed with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to try to “use the doctor’s waiting room as kind of a classroom to teach patients about better nutrition,” Squires said.

They took 40 patients whose diabetes was well controlled, Squires said, and divided them into two groups. One group of 20 met weekly in the office to learn about portion control; the other half, to learn about low-fat vegan diets.

After four months, during which the patients kept their physical activity and medications stable, both groups had lost weight: the vegan group, an average of about 14 pounds; the portion-control group, about 10. And LDL, the bad cholesterol, dropped significantly in both groups.

Sklar and the PCRM reported on the study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The groups met after doctor’s hours, but Squires said that other studies have found value in giving instruction during actual waiting time.

Other research has found that people with high blood pressure who were given information in the waiting room did twice as well in getting their blood pressure under control as those who didn’t get the information, she said.

“It seems like there’s an opportunity here for a lot of patient education,” Squires said.

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