Consumer-Friendly Approaches to Curbing Wait Times

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04/09/2018 in Blog

Physicians on television make it seem like patients can easily make appointments. A patient walks in the door, checks-in, and is back in the exam room in no time.

But in real life, patients are waiting an average of 24 days to schedule appointments with physicians, according to a 2017 study of specialty physicians in 15 major U.S. cities. That’s a 30 percent jump from 2014. The longest average wait time was in Boston at 52 days.[1] And when a patient finally gets to the office, they sometimes have to spend more time than they anticipated in the waiting room.

Choosing a physician is a big decision, and consumers make it based on a variety of factors, including appointment scheduling and wait times. This is very challenging because there are many factors at play, but a combination of high-quality customer service and technology solutions can help minimize patient wait times.

Offer online appointment scheduling options.

There are many reasons patients have to wait longer to see a physician. The Affordable Care Act gave millions of Americans health care coverage, causing an influx of patients seeing their physicians. Additionally, there is an aging population that might require additional care. And if current trends continue, the physician shortage could be worsening.[2]

One way practices and hospitals have worked to better accommodate patients is by offering online appointment scheduling. Not only do many consumers find online scheduling easier, but it can help streamline operations for office staff, adding up to a lot more time for other tasks. Healthgrades research even found that 82 percent of consumers prefer physicians with online scheduling and lesser availability over physicians without online scheduling and greater availability.[3]

Cut down on time in the waiting room, or at least make it seem shorter.

The average wait time at a physician’s office is around 20 minutes,[4] and research shows that the length of wait times affects the likelihood of patient referrals. Plus, evidence shows that wait times are one of the most influential factors in patient satisfaction and loyalty.[5]

Once patients are sitting down, some magazines, videos, or Wi-Fi access can help pass the time. For example, Timothy Watson, MD, at Mission Pediatrics in California puts on magic shows and even films comedic videos to share important health information.

If wait times are longer than expected, keep up the communication.

Physicians can’t control everything. Whether an emergency situation arises that shifts priorities for the office or a physician is the only one available to treat certain conditions, there may always be challenges with curbing wait times. If a patient is waiting longer than anticipated, it makes them feel better if they are kept in the loop and understand (when it’s possible to provide details) about why the delays occurred.  

Patients love their physicians, and they will remain loyal if they have convenient options to access their physicians and pass the time while they wait, and if the office staff and providers communicate effectively throughout the process.

To access a recent Healthgrades and MGMA analysis of 7 million patient reviews, revealing what people say about their physicians, click here.

To read inspiring stories about physicians around the country, click here, or click here.

To learn how physicians can benefit from online patient reviews, click here.