The effect of wait times on the patient experience and patient loyalty has been closely examined. One University of Utah study found that a wait of five minutes or less translates into higher satisfaction with physician communication as well as a high likelihood of recommending the doctor; there is a dramatic decrease in both when the wait exceeds 16 minutes.
In our July 2021 Community Conversations webinar focused on wait times, 67% of healthcare leaders indicated over-scheduling has the biggest impact on wait times in their practices. Leaders also shared the tactics they employ in an effort to ease wait time concerns.
Why do wait times matter?
To better understand patients’ specific concerns and how they might be addressed, we analyzed over 2,000 patient comments in our system related to wait times. Here are the top five wait time obstacles.
- There was no communication during the wait time. Patients expressed the desire for an estimated wait time at check-in, updates throughout the wait, and explanations regarding excessive wait times. Patients who did receive this information often stated appreciation and forgiveness of long waits.
- There was nothing to do while waiting. Patients struggled more with long waits when there weren’t magazines or other reading materials, wireless internet, or toys or books available to children.
- The wait interfered with work, other appointments, or other personal obligations. Wait times were a bigger problem when they interrupted the patient’s schedule.
- There was no advance notice of a delay. Patients expressed a desire for a phone call or text notification when there is a delay so they can adjust their arrival time accordingly or reschedule for another day.
- Patients were asked to arrive early and then experienced a long wait. Patients felt this extended their wait unnecessarily and disrespected their time.
What can be done?
Communication before and during wait times is vital. If you can, provide approximate wait times and updates while the patient waits. Notifying patients of long waits helps them to plan accordingly, eases waiting anxiety, and shows respect for their time.
If appropriate for your practice, allow patients to fill out paperwork ahead of time to avoid the need for an early arrival. If the patient does need to arrive early, try to proactively communicate any delays in the schedule to lessen the likelihood of an excessive wait time.
Finally, provide a comfortable waiting room with items to occupy your patients’ time while they wait. Consider your demographic when offering reading materials, television, or music.
Looking for more ideas on improving wait times and preventing patient complaints? Visit the Improvement Center in your portal, choose ‘Outpatient Improvement Resources,’ and scroll down to ‘Wait Times’ to view short videos and articles.