By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
Patience is a virtue, but patients don’t always feel the need to practice it. And that makes sense; as more practices offer shorter wait times and more one-on-one time with the doctor, why would they want to put up with long patient wait times?
Attitudes towards patient wait times are changing
If you’ve worked in the healthcare field for quite a while, you’ve probably heard the term “healthcare consumerism.” While the term encompasses many different things, the big idea is that patients expect their healthcare experience to be more like a customer service experience.
This retail mindset means patients are no longer willing to put up with long wait times at the doctor’s office—just as they wouldn’t wait a half-hour in line at the store to buy an item.
Reasons for shifting patient attitudes
The truth is that patients have never enjoyed long wait times in the office. In many cases, they simply accepted it as the norm. While some offices have always attempted to streamline processes, we all know that practices and hospitals have a reputation for scheduling appointments that rarely begin on time.
So what’s different now? Patients have become empowered to take control of the situation. They know that there are other options out there. And while they may not be able to turn back the clock and choose another office, they can prevent other people from making the same mistake.
Your reputation is on the line
Wouldn’t it be great if a doctor or hospital’s reputation was based solely on their professional merits? Of course, you strive to provide the best level of healthcare you can. But in this day and age, that’s not enough to earn a strong patient referral.
And patient referrals are not just limited to someone’s family and friends. A recent Vitals study showed that healthcare facilities with long wait times tend to receive much poorer reviews than those with shorter waits. The highest reviewed practices had average wait times of 13 minutes, while those receiving low star ratings had wait times of 34 minutes.
Patient reviews have greater reach than ever before
90% of patients have researched a doctor or hospital before visiting. Chances are high that most of your patients have looked you up online. They may have been pleased with your reviews, or they may have decided you were worth a shot despite them—but after a visit, they could change their mind.
This fact is not just limited to primary care. Even patients who receive a referral from another doctor are likely to research that referral online. And if they don’t like what they see, they may seek out a second option.
Your competition is changing
Depending on your area of specialty, the competition surrounding your practice or hospital is likely a lot different than it was just 10 or 15 years ago.
Primary care doctors and some other specialties are competing with urgent care clinics, including those in retail locations like a CVS. Urgent care clinics now compete with telehealth apps on mobile devices. If you want to keep patients in your practice or hospital, you have to create an experience of care that keeps them coming back and is competitive with these modern healthcare environments.
Losing a patient is expensive
According to Vitals, 30% of patients have simply left a doctor’s office because they were dissatisfied with the wait time. In some cases, the cost of acquiring a new patient can be a couple hundred dollars—worth it when you consider the lifetime value of that patient, but not if you lose them!
And when one patient leaves, you miss out on the opportunity for several more patients. This includes their family and friends and, of course, several people reading your negative reviews.
What can you do to reduce the wait?
It may be time for an audit of your systems and processes. Think about what you could do to really streamline appointments and make sure everyone is in and out in as little time as possible. Could you…
- Automate check-ins or keep these online?
- Keep better estimates of the amount of time needed for certain times of appointments?
- Text patients when you’re running behind and allow them the option to reschedule?
Best of all, listen to your patients and their needs. Even if you fall behind in scheduling, your patients will appreciate transparency and your willingness to fix the issues over time.