By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
Even in the nicest of “waiting rooms,” who really wants to wait for medical services…or anything else for that matter? And if reducing wait times for medical services is a key to improving patient satisfaction, doctors’ offices can now follow hospitals in communicating wait times to patients.
To illustrate, we can all relate to the following numbers published by the performance improvement folks at Press Ganey Associates.* Average wait times:
- Hospital emergency room: 4 hours, 7 minutes
- California Department of Motor Vehicles: 42 minutes, 32 seconds
- Orthopedists: 29 minutes
- Security line at Atlanta Airport during Monday morning rush: 25 minutes
- Primary Care Physician: 22 minutes
- Dermatologists: 20 minutes
- McDonald’s drive-through window: 2 minutes, 54 seconds
There’s a world of difference, of course, between providing healthcare services and serving up a Big Mac, but tech-savvy consumers have become clock-watchers. Anyone can check flight delays in real time, watch live weather radar on their smartphone or order merchandise online in a few seconds. Depending on someone’s “wait time tolerance,” patient satisfaction levels erode with every five minute slice of “wait.”
Last year we wrote about the hospital marketing and advertising push to promote their ER wait times on websites, billboards and other media. Now doctors, dentists, chiropractors and other office-based healthcare providers can do the same.
MedWaitTime is a web-based system that allows medical offices, as well as hospitals, to post their wait times. Patients can follow in real time via computer or smartphone app. Or they can opt-in for email updates or color-coded text messages (green=no wait; yellow=short wait; red=long wait.) The service is free for patients to use.
As further benefit, patients can locate a physician and schedule an appointment online. According to founder Vishal Mehta, MD—a suburban Chicago orthopedic surgeon—MedWaitTime also helps providers with the problem of maintaining a steady schedule. The service allows patients to search their area for primary-care doctors and specialists who are currently accepting walk-in appointments.
Although many hospitals and urgent care facilities have been posting actual wait times on billboards and signs, outdoor media is probably not a cost-effective option for most medical offices. Nevertheless there may be healthcare marketing value for some providers to advertise wait times. Improving the patient experience is definitely a plus for both the individual as well as for efficient office operations. The challenge is what the Wall Street Journal labeled as “the health-care equivalent of being stuck on the tarmac in a crowded plane.”
* Sources: Press Ganey Associates; California DMV; Transportation Security Administration; QSR Magazine