See this bit from comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, that perfectly illustrates the waiting area scenario: "I hate when they make you wait in the room. ‘Cause it says 'Waiting room.' There’s no chance of not waiting, ‘cause they call it the waiting room, they’re going to use it. They’ve got it. It’s all set up for you to wait. And you sit there, you know, and you’ve got your little magazine. You pretend you’re reading it, but you’re really looking at the other people. You know, you’re thinking about them things like 'I wonder what he’s got. As soon as she goes, I’m getting her magazine.' And then, they finally call you and it’s a very exciting moment. They finally call you, and you stand up and you kinda look around at the other people in the room. “Well, I guess I’ve been chosen. I’ll see you all later. You know, so you think you’re going to see the doctor, but you’re not, are you? No. You’re going into the next waiting room. The littler waiting room."
So, how can you improve patient waiting room times and ensure that your patients are not waiting for unreasonable amounts of time in your waiting area? Here are a few tips.
- Wash off any preconceived notions you may have of wait times. This can be one of the toughest barriers to break down. Unfortunately, most physicians and staff have built in the idea that waiting for an appointment is just a part of the visit. This is not true. Thanks to evolving technology and smarter work flow, patients can realize not only a reduction in wait times, but an increase convenience and flexibility too.
- Appointment similar in nature should be grouped and booked around the same time. Your staff will minimize the amount of time they spend between different levels of care and the times savings will be will passed on to your patients.
- Increase your level of technology with telemedicine services. In a prior blog post, I mentioned that thanks to telehealth services, your patients have the ability to consult with you via two-way video, email, or text, all from the comfort of their home or office. Currently, over 36 million Americans have used telehealth in some form. Health Prime International can help you build such an infrastructure.
- Encourage patients to use your patient portal. You may already know that the Stage 2 rules require providers to demonstrate that patients have the ability to view online, download and transmit their health information. Aside from these features, patient portals allow scheduling of appointments, allow patients to fill out paperwork ahead of time and submit insurance information, ensuring less time is spent at the front desk.
- Ask the patient to call the office 1 hour prior to their appointment for updates. When the patient calls, they should be advised on whether the physician is running on schedule. If the provider is behind schedule, a more appropriate arrival time can be offered to the patient, ensuring shorter wait times. Additionally, giving patients a “heads up” on the status of the physician’s schedule will empower them and let them know that you respect their time.
- Design a survey to collect patient feedback. In order to pinpoint exactly where your daily schedule is running off course, simply ask your patients using a survey that tracks each patient’s timeline from arrival to exit. How long are they spending in the waiting area or exam room? How long is their visit with the provider? Scatter the survey across various days and weeks to get a clear picture of where the issues may be.
- Learn to admit when you’re are wrong. Many times, all a patient needs to see is that the physician and staff values their time. While you should always try and respect the patient’s time by remaining on schedule, it is not always possible. If you are running late, apologize for the wait and go the extra mile by offering them a $5 gift card for a cup of coffee.
Begin with these crucial tips and I am certain that you will be on your way to reducing the amount of time patients are waiting for appointments. In subsequent blog posts, I will be expanding on these tips and will help answer any questions that you may have. I will also interview providers that have used my suggestions to see what feedback they may have for me. Thank you for being a loyal reader and I look forward to any questions that you may have! If you'd like to be a guest blogger, please email me!