Back Home: Just hanging around

By Chris Hardie
Posted 2/28/24

As hurried and busy as life seems these days, we still spend plenty of time waiting. Estimates are that we can spend an average of six months of our life waiting.

I thought about waiting …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Back Home: Just hanging around


As hurried and busy as life seems these days, we still spend plenty of time waiting. Estimates are that we can spend an average of six months of our life waiting.

I thought about waiting recently as I was doing just that – sitting in a clinic waiting room. A little research and I found a LinkedIn post from futurist Jim Carroll that sheds some light on where and how much we wait.

Caroll cites a Timex survey, which breaks down the average American wait time:

  • on average of 20 minutes a day for the bus or train
  • 32 minutes whenever they visit a doctor
  • 28 minutes in security lines whenever they travel
  • 21 minutes for a significant other to get ready to go out
  • 13 hours annually waiting on hold for a customer service
  • 38 hours each year waiting in traffic
  • those living in big cities wait in traffic for more than 50 hours annually
  • about 37 billion hours each year waiting in line somewhere

Most of the time we spend waiting we try to fill up with other distractions. In my 45 minutes of waiting in a clinic room, nearly every other visitor pulled out a smartphone to fill the time.

Gone are the days when stacks of well-thumbed magazines were piled on corner tables for perusal. It was a dive into history as some publications were several years old.

But recently I was in a clinic waiting room and there were some vintage magazines from 1993. They had to have come from someone’s private stock as they were in excellent condition. It was actually fun thinking back to the days when I had more hair and less chin.

I don’t mind passive waiting – like sitting around – as much as I detest being held hostage at the other end of a phone line. It’s even more frustrating when your time invested results in nothing gained when you are cut off or transferred to some other department where you have to repeat your complaint again and again. 

I call it the loop of doom – keep transferring a customer that you have no means or intent of helping – until the end of time or until they give up, whichever comes first. 

However, waiting rooms at clinics are more important than some might think, studies have shown. And it’s not about wait time. 

A report from the consulting company Qualtrics found that unpleasant waiting rooms were the single most cited reason that patients said they would stop returning to a healthcare facility.

When asked about what would cause them not to return to a primary care office, 29% of patients said they were turned off by unpleasant waiting rooms versus 6% who said long wait times.

I think most folks understand that physicians – particularly those in primary care – are under incredible time constraints. They see patients with many health issues and try to allocate time to the unknown every patient brings through the door. 

Some studies suggest patients respond more favorably in clean, comfortable waiting rooms that feature health care or educational materials. A waiting room manager could serve as the link between the patient and the system.

I prefer someplace quiet where I can sit comfortably and not feel crowded. Sometimes a few minutes in peace and quiet is the best medicine in a hurry up and wait world.


Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at

waiting rooms, Back Home, Chris Hardie, column