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How to Kill Unoccupied Time and Enhance Patient Satisfaction

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

[Part Two of a two-part article about long waiting times in accessing care and healthcare service delivery the doctor’s office. Read how to identify the problem and what to do about it. The first post is available here: Rethink Reception and Reduce Patient Waiting in Healthcare.]

a line of people out the doorThe nearly universal patient frustration (over 90 percent) tracks to the perception of a lengthy wait. The many experts who have studied the issue remind us of the “perception” part—something we have all experienced. And that is the difference between “occupied time” and “unoccupied time.”

Dr. Richard Larson, an M.I.T. expert, explains the difference as: “Occupied Time (a long walk to an airport’s baggage claim area, for example) feels far shorter than Unoccupied Time (just standing and waiting at the baggage carousel).” Even when your operating efficiency has reduced the actual wait time, it’s important to find ways to kill off unoccupied blocks of time which are a negative drag on people’s tolerance. Here are some working ideas:

Free WiFi and Charging Outlets – In case you’re concerned—no—the office software isn’t vulnerable. Consider Starbucks or dozens of retail locations; a separate system is mature and secure technology.

Don’t neglect the simple comforts – Surprisingly, many offices don’t provide the most elementary touches such as a range of current and popular magazines, patient information literature, and as appropriate, water, coffee, espresso bar and/or mini-meal station.

The updated and better touches – Individuals feel less waiting when they can borrow and use private (and sanitized) tablet computers, watch an extra-large big screen and informative television, and/or access personal records and/or lab results via a patient portal. How about an electronic message or bulletin board, iPods with quiz, game or news?

Pre-appointment advisory systems – Offer another means to manage patient flow. A phone call—or better yet, send a text—when the office schedule is running late. Provide a notification pager system similar to “your table is ready.”

Try triage and “fast lane” service – Offices with regular allergy/immunizations or routine testing, for example, often provide a separate service lane. Similarly, an express care or initial triage encounter identifies quick and simple needs for some patients, plus that time becomes active, occupied time.

Boldly re-think the reception space – Does the first impression of the office have to be cold, clinical and not an inch more than pure industrial and functional? Can you continue the design evolution further to a redefined welcome area with plush relaxation chairs, wall-size fish tanks, dedicated tech stations or exclusive areas for younger patients?

From receptionist to host/hostess – At an upscale salon, a hostess greets patrons with a cheerful invitation to enjoy a beverage or refreshment. The unique touch here is that the first conversation—especially a friendly touch—is engaging, and occupied time passes quickly.

Brand your unique self – By practice or by personality, the office décor can represent the physician’s personality or brand. We know a physician who is an accomplished musician who plays local theater with other doctors and local people. (Much like Stephen King who plays guitar with other famous writers.) Our doc expresses his unique community involvement in his office décor using a life-size stuffed figure of a saxophone player, as well as memorabilia of his close involvement with the local high school and civic activities.

Creating a new standard of convenience in care…

To achieve meaningful improvements, organize the staff around new goals as a team…including patient satisfaction. Remain flexible and solicit improvement ideas from everyone in the care continuum.

Contemporary medical practices and hospitals that are able to reduce or eliminate patient waiting creates a new standard of care. Patient convenience in care delivery improves efficiency as well as differentiating the practice from the competition. By the way, what's the most unusual, interesting and engaging office you've ever seen? What would you add to the list above? Share your ideas with others as a note below.

The best results come through ongoing training that efficiently and effectively puts the patient first. [If you missed the first part of this two-part article about reducing waiting and accessing care, click through here to Part One: Rethink Reception and Reduce Patient Waiting in Healthcare.]

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