3 Simple Strategies to Reduce Patient Wait Times

Is your practice patient-centered? To find out, just take a look around your waiting room.

A lot of practices claim to put patients first, but judging by the number of people quietly (or not so quietly) stewing in their waiting rooms, that’s just not the case.

Long wait times signal two very important things to patients:

  1. You don’t respect their time.
  2. You don’t value their time as much as your own.

The negative correlation between time spent waiting and patient satisfaction has been well documented. However, a 2014 study found that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Long wait times were found to negatively affect everything from patients’ confidence in their provider and their perceived quality of care to their perceptions of the treatments, information, and instructions provided by staff.

Eye care providers must make a real effort to minimize wait times in order to stay competitive in the modern healthcare marketplace, says Joanne Mansour, practice management expert and regular presenter AAO annual conferences. She emphasizes that consumer-facing strategies are now necessary to maintain revenue, manage costs, retain first-time patients, and increase referrals from existing patients.

Sure, all practices sometimes have emergencies, and even the most conscientious doctors run behind every once in a while. But even if you’re not padding your schedule to guard against no shows, from the patients perspective, the result (and the resulting frustration) is the same. And for every patient who brings their long wait to your staff’s attention, there are others who will simply wait quietly for the doctor, and then start looking for a new provider.

To avoid that unwelcome outcome, there’s no need to start speeding through exams or scheduling fewer patients. Instead, Mansour suggests these three patient-centered strategies:

Reset Expectations

  • When scheduling patients (both new and current), let them know how long they can expect to be in your office. This will help them to know when to schedule other activities or appointments during their day.
  • When squeezing a patient into a busy schedule, remind them that they may need to wait.

Introduce Efficiencies

  • Encourage new patients to complete their paperwork prior to reaching the office, ideally via your patient portal.
  • Remind returning patients to bring a list of changes to their medications and medical history, or submit it through your patient portal.
  • Make sure that all consent forms are signed and diagnostic imaging completed prior to any physician exams.
  • Use technology (like your EHR) to monitor patient flow, identifying recurring problem areas and restructuring your workflow when necessary.

Tip: Use optimal slots for high maintenance patients. You know who they are, and by booking them first thing in the morning or right after lunch, you’re almost asking to run behind. Instead, schedule these patients right before lunch or at the end of the day. That way, when they inevitably extend their allotted appointment times, they’ll affect as few of your other patients as possible.

Communicate

  • When a problem does arise, don’t ignore it. Inform patients in your waiting room of any delays. If the delay is significant, consider calling patients who have not yet arrived.
  • Thank patients for being, well, patient! A little common courtesy goes a long way.
  • Introduce the role of an office flow maestro. This “traffic cop” (often your most experienced tech) conducts a morning huddle to review potential bottlenecks, problem patients, or special circumstances for that day. They also give feedback to staff/departments when chronic bottlenecks occur.

Presiding over a waiting room filled with antsy patients is no fun. Just ask your receptionist. By incorporating proactive strategies with proper preparation and communication, you will almost never hear a patient in the waiting room say “I should have brought my lunch…”

Photo Credit: frances1972. CC BY-ND 2.0.

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