Rethink Reception and Reduce Patient Waiting in Healthcare
[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.
The first and best to reducing patient waiting...
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:
- Right up front, research says that patients will be more tolerant if they know there will be a delay. A Software Advice study found that many patients would be willing to switch to an alternate provider in that office when that’s presented as an option.
- Saying sorry is a big plus. Although nearly all patients (80 percent) are frustrated by long delays, a regular updates, personal apology, or explanation from the doctor reduces frustration for nearly everyone (70 percent). [SoftwareAdvice]
- Squeeze technology for new efficiencies, such as online appointment scheduling, text and email reminders, online forms and patient portals. What services can be delivered by telemedicine or expedited by a unique health app?
- Most offices allow a fixed block of time per patient. But the great-unknown variables also need time considerations. How does your daily or weekly schedule flex to accommodate a staff absence, an emergency, patient no-show, doctor delays and the like? Create elasticity.
- Be flexible in schedules by doctor. Allow more time for certain doctors who devote more time to patients or have a longer examinations or procedures. Not all doctors and not all patients or complaints fit the same block of time.
- Dedicate the first encounter welcome desk, exclusively, to creating a warm and personal welcome. The “warm welcome” function disappears when the front desk is an old-school multi-task station. It can’t be expected to answer phones, find or replace files, shuffle and short papers. Create a patient advocate or care ambassador who is responsible for creating and launching a positive patient experience.
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]