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This week we respond to questions about wait times at the doctor’s office and sun screen for African Americans.

Dear HOUSE Calls,   
Why are wait times so long at the doctor’s office?

Oh boy, we’ll try to keep this brief. This is a very complicated issue. And when we give you some reasons, you should understand that they are not excuses, and we are always striving to do better in this regard. At UNC Family Medicine we have made great progress with wait time over the last several years.

Your appointment at the doctor’s office is usually booked for 15 to 20 minutes. Some offices try to accommodate patients that are a little late (maybe 10-20 minutes would be typical). Patients are commonly late and this has a cumulative or stacking effect on the clinic session. Also, we try to keep our visits focused, but many patients have a lot of issues that they want to talk about. Sometimes the doctor will be selective, but this can be frustrating to the patient. We will always help with a crisis.

It is common in our clinic to have one or more patients scheduled during a half day with a heart attack, severe depression, severe high blood sugar, suspected labor, or trouble breathing. These sorts of visits are hard to predict and incredibly time consuming, not to mention important!

Also we try to keep our schedules pretty full because about 10-15% of our patients don’t show up for their appointments. Some practices try to mitigate this problem by charging the full fee for missed appointments or discharging repeat offenders from the practice. We want to balance the demands of efficiency with the financial realities of running a practice, and the needs of individual patients.

However, we can do better. We are trying to learn what we can from other industries (airlines, banks, etc.) and feel like there is still a lot of room to do better. We have also started a patient advisory board and continue to hear from patients how to best balance these competing demands.

Dear HOUSE Calls,    
I was wondering what are the best sunscreens for African Americans?  

This is a great question. The short answer is that African Americans and others with darker skin do not need special sunscreens. But it is important to consider because darker skin can burn with prolonged sun exposure and can develop skin cancer.

Just like anybody else, you should choose the sun screen that feels best for your skin type.  Dry skin? Maybe try a cream.  Oily skin? Maybe try a spray or gel. The important thing is that you use the products that protect against UVA and UVB rays.

HOUSE Calls is a weekly column by Dr. Cristy Page, Dr. Adam Zolotor, and Dr. Adam Goldstein on behalf of YOUR HEALTH and the UNC Department of Family Medicine.

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