[Part One of a two-part article about one of the top patient satisfaction complaints: long waiting times in accessing care and healthcare service delivery the doctor’s office. Here’s how to identify the problem and what to do about it.]
There’s a well-considered reason that the healthcare industry is doing its best to banish the term “waiting room.” Every hospital and multi-physician practice knows that “reception area” or even “welcome desk” is a more thoughtful and sensitive term. Unfortunately, the label doesn’t do much to improve the actual environment.
There’s more to the term than a semantics-spin or a stab at “proper-PC.” There’s a bit of science at work here…and some valuable ideas that are particularly useful when the “waiting,” or “delay,” or “slip in the schedule” happens to a patient in a doctor’s office.
For customers or clients or patients, waiting is a serious dynamic and usually a negative business factor throughout the service industry. Nobody likes to wait, but there’s greater anxiety and difficulty at work for someone with an uncomfortable medical issue. It’s not the same as waiting for a table at a restaurant.
So the first and best anti-waiting solution is to operate with no delays and no waiting. In the patient experience of a typical office visit, access to care and service convenience are critical considerations. Empowered healthcare consumers have limited—and shrinking—tolerance for waiting weeks for an appointment or to see the doctor.
A same day or next day appointment, and an on-time office, is every patient’s desired standard of care. But it doesn’t always work that way. Reality intrudes and the average wait time for a physician appointment for the 15 large metro markets is 24.1 days, according to the Merritt Hawkins survey.
And, once in the waiting room, the average time to actually see the physician is close to 20 minutes. [Vitals.com] About 97 percent of patients get frustrated with lengthy waits, and for most of us, the too-much-waiting threshold grows toward annoyance after 10 minutes.
The ideal remedy is for the office to function efficiently at or below that standard. And from a marketing perspective, having little or no wait time is a dramatic, and highly appealing, point of differentiation above the competition.
Many offices operate on the “we’ve-always-done-it-that-way” system and don’t invest in considering better ways to deliver service. Convenience is increasingly expected in service. Cast yourself as the patient and identify the major expectations and how to deliver them. Here are a few idea starters to identify pinch-points and for your fresh brainstorming:
What would you add to the list above? We'd love to hear how you would reduce patient wait time. Add your note below.
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[Our look at patient waiting and patient satisfaction continues with part two. The second and concluding article is titled: How to Kill Unoccupied Time and Enhance Patient Satisfaction]