The anticipation of waiting for a friend to show up for coffee, or waiting for a table at a great restaurant can be fun, but for busy patients, a prolonged wait to see the doctor can feel like a violation of their time, especially since the appointment was planned in advance and, well, who can afford to wait? Fortunately, there are simple and painless steps a doctor can take to help alleviate any frustration patients may experience when unexpected wait times do occur.
A while back I recall waiting over 45 minutes to see my doctor. I needed medical care and it would be weeks until my schedule opened back up, so I couldn’t just bail on the visit. When the doctor became free, the staff dryly said, ‘the doctor will see you now’. And that was all they said –zero explanation, I felt it added insult to injury. I distinctly remember my frustration rising (along with my blood pressure) with each 10 minutes or so that passed. Once I was with the doc, he apologized and let me know that that a patient had complications during an office procedure and it took almost an hour to stop some bleeding. The explanation, of course, adjusted my attitude, but for my lost time, he didn’t charge me for the visit.
Although many individuals are willing to wait to see a doctor, studies have shown that they are more likely to feel comfortable when a medical practice is up-front about the amount of time they can expect to wait. Generally, patients feel more appreciative when they are realistically made aware of usual wait timesbefore the appointment. Doctor do fall behind, but while an apology can help reduce feelings of frustration and annoyance, it cannot get the patient back on schedule; so knowing in advance is extremely helpful. Patients are more understanding and at ease when extended wait times are disclosed either when setting up the appointment or before arrival.
Evaluating the Patient
Since a medical practice can have a variety of patient types, some comfort-level-insights can help reduce feelings of frustration, and they can be an essential part of improving the atmosphere of a medical practice. As a general rule, women prefer to wait in more private settings, such as an exam room. When your medical practice primarily treats women, it would be beneficial to ensure that they are taken to a private exam room in a timely manner, then offered an accurate estimation of when the doctor will see them. Having a medical assistant, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner enter the patient’s vitals and subjective reasons for the visit into an EMR program can easily give the doc an extra 10-15 minutes if they need to play catch up.
If your medical practice has a mixture of men and women and regularly falls behind, you can benefit by making WiFi available so that patients can make the best use of prolonged waits. Having refreshments available is a novel way of making patients feel at ease while waiting. Adding a custom coffee machine, or having mineral water available can make wait times more pleasant. I encouraged my personal physician to add a winebar to his waiting room as he was consistently 15-20 minutes behind, but he never did. Go figure.
Avoid Expedited Services
Providing efficient services can help reduce feelings of frustration, but studies have shown that even a short wait can be frustrating to patients. Furthermore, the majority of patients are not willing to pay for expedited services, so a practice may not benefit from offering them. Instead, the medical office should focus on making the wait as short as possible and providing efficient services. In our area, a hospital in a small suburb 30 minutes away competes successfully with two larger hospitals just blocks away from each other by advertising ‘Zero Wait Times‘ on billboards near the other hospitals.
Apologies Are Not Enough
Urgent care centers that focus on primary care are popping up everywhere you look. While it’s not possible to completely eliminate unexpected wait times in a medical office, by disclosing wait times in advance and revamping waiting rooms to accommodate modern needs, you can keep levels of frustration down to a minimum so that patients will return for their future medical needs. By implementing text-messaging, patients can be easily notified to show up 30 minutes later than scheduled. Respecting the time of a busy person is simply wonderful customer service. Try it and report back on the effect it has on your patients.
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