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House Calls, March 29, 2012

Practicing family physicians from the UNC Department of Family Medicine have teamed up with The Carrboro Citizen to bring you a weekly feature responding to your questions about health and medicine. Send your questions or comments to yourhealth@unc.edu

This week we respond to questions about wait times at the doctor’s office and sunscreen 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). 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 (and important). Also, we try to keep our schedules pretty full because about 10-15 percent of our patient appointments are not kept. Some practices try to mitigate this problem by charging 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 improve. We have also started a patient advisory board and continue to hear from patients how to best balance these competing demands.

Dear HOUSE Calls, What are the best sunscreens for African-Americans?

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 sunscreen that feels best for your skin type. If you have dry skin, maybe try a cream, or if you have 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. Adam Goldstein, Dr. Cristy Page and Dr. Adam Zolotor on behalf of Your Health and the UNC Department of Family Medicine.

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