Communicating Patient Wait Times to Ensure Repeat Business
Eddie Stahl, Client Solutions Consultant shares the of importance wait times and how they are an important factor in either retaining business or warding off unnecessary complaints.
In any practice, wait times are an important factor in either retaining business or ward off unnecessary complaints. Think about it, at one time or another, as far back as you can remember, you have been in a situation where you waited. For youngsters and parents alike, visiting an amusement park creates some of the longest waits of all. The anticipation of being strapped into various concussion-causing contraptions will cause us to wait for an hour and sometimes longer just to experience a 5-minute ride. In this type of scenario, we typically don’t complain about the wait as it is to be expected. This shows in the high number attendance at amusement parks nationwide; however, where we do seem to complain often is at the doctor’s office. Although we expect to wait, the result of our visit is not as exciting as a roller coaster or teacup ride. From a patient perspective, a wait time beyond 15 minutes is too long and unacceptable, especially if you have an appointment. To ease the pain of this wait, many medical offices have installed televisions in the lobby as an accompaniment to the reliable magazine. Because most offices post signs stating that you should turn off your cell phone, patient’s need some type of activity to bide the time. The one area of the medical office where this is lacking is in the patient room itself. While getting into the patient room is an equivalent to seeing the actual ride you have been waiting an hour for at your favorite amusement park, the difference is that there is nothing to do in the patient room. With no phone, no magazines, and no television, patients tend to become very anxious as the time ticks by. What seems like only a few minutes to those of us on the inside running around filling orders, taking vitals, and the like, to a patient it is an eternity…an eternity with no phone. Imagine that!
While providing excellent medical care is extremely important to the success of any healthcare practice, controlling long wait times is just as important for repeat business and alleviating the angst that many patients suffer from visiting your clinic. So how do we combat this frustration? Communication. Communication is key to answering the question: “how much longer?” If you have not done so already, determine the average time is takes to treat each patient. Once a patient asks the wait time, you or your front desk, should be able to estimate a length of time before they are seen. There are also many tools available in the market today that will allow patients to seen how long their wait time is and some that even show their name in a queue or on a Whiteboard.
Imagine you go to a nearby restaurant and find that it is standing room only. You ask the host or hostess how long is the wait and they respond, “I’m not sure. We will call you when we have your table ready?” In most cases this would not fly. We need to know how long it is going to be to determine if we will stay around or find another restaurant close by. This should be the same as how we communicate with our patients…by giving them an estimation of the time. They will certainly appreciate it more and to some degree, calm their nerves.
Remember that perception is reality. If a patient thinks it is taking too long for their visit, then it is taking too long. Be cognizant of appointment times and communicate those wait times. Communication is key to calm an anxious patient waiting to be seen. By monitoring wait times, you can determine the bottlenecks in your organization and lower those times.