We have all experienced this: You’ve arranged your whole day, your whole schedule to have a short doctor’s visit and get to their office on time. You might have taken time off work. There are a lot of factors that come into play here. For example, you may be on an empty stomach or holding a full bladder as required for the exams needed. You probably aren’t feeling well and may be concerned about other caretaking responsibilities. You may have had to coordinate with family to get your kids or to have someone watch your children during the appointment…
The very last thing that you want to hear when you arrive at the doctor’s office is, “we’re running a few minutes late.” And you don’t want to be kept sitting in the waiting room or alone in the exam room for a long time – nobody does. That’s why seeking solutions to reduce wait times is so important.
Who wants to wait at the front desk, then in the doctor’s office waiting room, then in the hallway outside of the lab, and then for the follow-up, billing, scheduling the next appointment, etc.? All that time adds up, causing problems for patients and undue stress for medical and administrative staff.
What Is the Real Cost of Patient Wait Times?
It’s clear that excessive wait times cause patients inconvenience. Yet, with the frustration that then gets directed towards healthcare workers, receptionists, and the rest of the team, there are some real damages to consider for your practice.
- Lower Perception of the Value of Care – Surveys have proven that long wait times directly correlate to the negative patient experience at a doctor’s office. When a patient thinks that his/her time has been wasted, he/she is more likely to perceive the entire medical visit poorly. The information and treatment provided essentially lose credibility as the perceived cost outweighs the value.
- Extra Workplace Stress – The team members who are responsible for handling patient inquiries about wait times are going to experience extra stress. Not only do they have to field questions and complaints, but they also need to find ways to diffuse anger and calm patients down.
- Lost Productivity – When patients are waiting longer than they should, it cuts into the time that they could be spending seeing the doctor or completing treatments. This can lead to a decrease in productivity for your practice, as well as lost income.
- Damage to Your Reputation – If patients are regularly waiting excessive amounts of time to see you, it’s going to damage the reputation of the medical practice.
In all, these costs can lead to patients avoiding making appointments in the future, waiting until seeking medical attention becomes more urgent, or seeking care elsewhere. Following the same principles as customer service, patient care must work to provide a positive experience for the people it serves.
Related article: Patients’ #1 Complaint is When They Can’t Get in Contact with the Doctor.
10 Ways to Reduce Patient Wait for Your Practice
So, the focus should be on streamlining visits and providing your patients with a more positive experience. There are a few different ways that you can help reduce patient wait times in the doctor’s office and throughout your practice:
- Aim for a lean workflow. By applying lean process improvement principles, your practice can eliminate waste and improve flow. Lean healthcare management helps maximize customer satisfaction it encourages you to conduct only the steps processes and services that your patient value
- Hire more staff. This is one of the most obvious solutions, but it’s not always possible. If you are able to hire more staff, make sure you train them thoroughly so they can hit the ground running.
- Augment staff with technology. There are a number of ways that technology can help optimize the time of the staff you do have and reduce patient wait times. Online appointment scheduling, schedule optimization, digital check-in, and automated reminders are all great tools to help keep your practice running smoothly.
- Improve communication. Make sure you and your team are communicating effectively. This includes appointment reminders, letting patients know about any delays, as well as providing updates on their expected wait time.
- Take a proactive approach. If you know that your doctors, PAs, and healthcare staff are going to be busy on particular days or times of day, take steps to avoid excessive wait times. This might mean scheduling additional appointments, clearing more exam rooms, or opening up earlier or later in the day.
- Offer patients alternatives. If a patient is unable to wait, or has difficulty coming into the doctor’s office, offer them an alternative solution. This could include a telemedicine appointment or seeing a different provider in your network with more availability, more convenient time slots, or an office closer to the patient.
- Update policies and procedures. Eliminating wasted time can start with a comprehensive review of policies against the most current guidelines. With this information, your practice can update policies accordingly, eliminating services that are no longer recommended nor medically indicated.
- Cut out redundancies. Doctor’s offices can work to reduce the documentation and paperwork by collecting only information needed at intake points. This helps get rid of any duplicate or unnecessary questions or the practice of asking for the same information at every visit. Cross-training staff also helps cut down on duplicate work by defining roles and responsibilities for each person that the patient sees during the visit.
- Reroute care delivery. Reducing the number of stops the patient makes can also improve efficiency in the doctor’s office. By moving around the patient, instead of moving the patient around the clinic, decreases confusion and delays. Healthcare workers are putting this into action by sending patients directly to exam rooms and bringing services to them.
- Front-load the patient visit. Staffers’ time is optimized by taking care of as many details as possible before the patient actually steps into the doctor’s office. This means handling insurance verification over the phone when the appointment is made, setting up exam rooms the night before, and preparing kits for routine exams and procedures beforehand.
Related article: Innovative Solutions to Augment Short Staff.
PatientCalls: the Best Answering Service for Doctors
Do your patients complain about long wait times at your clinic? You’re not alone; it’s actually one of the top complaints about medical offices is the wait time. PatientCalls’ answering services for medical offices can help your practice reduce wait times, operate more efficiently, and increase patient satisfaction.
We provide after-hours and overflow call answering services for physicians and specialists that are convenient for patients and help alleviate the workload of staff. Contact us to get started!