How to Treat Patient Wait-Time Woes
IndustryView | 2013

No one likes to show up on time for a scheduled meeting only to have to wait for the other party to arrive—yet patients often find themselves waiting to see their doctors. A recent research report by Software Advice found patients are increasingly using online reviews to learn how long doctors’ wait times are before making an appointment. Clearly, the issue is an important one for patient satisfaction, which means it’s important for patient retention, too.

We surveyed a total of 5,003 patients in the U.S., collecting a minimum of 500 responses to each question, to find out how patients feel about wait times. Here we reveal techniques your medical practice can employ to help minimize patient frustration, and with it your risk of losing dissatisfied patients.

 

Key Findings:

  1. 80 percent of patients would be less frustrated if they knew how long the wait would be.
  2.  
  3. A personal apology from the doctor would minimize frustration for 70 percent of patients.
  4.  
  5. 41 percent of patients would be willing to see another doctor in the practice to reduce their wait.

Tell Patients How Long They’ll Wait to Alleviate Frustration

We asked patients to rate several factors according to how much each would minimize their frustration with wait times.

As it turns out, the techniques that are easiest to implement are also the most effective. Eighty percent of patients say their frustration would be minimized somewhat, or completely, simply by being told in advance how long they’ll have to wait. Seventy percent say a personal apology from the doctor would help. These techniques, especially the latter, can be easily integrated into your office workflow without any additional cost.

Sprucing up your waiting room can also help, though doing so is more expensive and less effective than the tactics identified above. Sixty-four percent of patients surveyed said the wait would be more bearable with a TV in the waiting room, and 60 percent say free WiFi would help. Nearly 60 percent say the same of being provided with complimentary food and beverages. These are a few relatively simple ways to decrease patient frustration by making the wait more enjoyable.

Some Patients Are Willing to See Another Doctor

We also asked patients if they would be open to seeing another doctor in the practice if it meant a shorter wait. While almost 60 percent of patients were unwilling to doctor-hop, more than 40 percent of patients would be willing to see another doctor to reduce their wait time.

This figure is significant enough to make this option worth pursuing. If your practice has more than one doctor, and if a patient’s primary doctor is running behind schedule, consider offering the choice to see another doctor (if one is available).

Where Patients Prefer to Wait

We initially speculated that some patients might prefer to wait in the privacy of an exam room, as opposed to a general waiting room. But patients are almost exactly evenly split in their preferences. One third said they would prefer a private exam room, one third prefer the general waiting room and the final third have no preference.

However, female patients are more likely than males to prefer waiting in private—nearly 40 percent say they'd rather wait in a private exam room. Practices with predominantly female patient panels may want to consider making private rooms available for waits.

Patients are Frustrated by Waits of Any Length

I was somewhat surprised to find that 45 percent of patients wait less than 15 minutes to see a doctor, and 85 percent are seen in 30 minutes or less. However, 55 percent of patients are still spending more than 15 minutes in the waiting room, with 15 percent waiting for 30 to 60 minutes—or longer.

Despite the fact that nearly half of all patients say they usually wait less than 15 minutes to see their doctors, only three percent of all patients claim not to be frustrated by the time they spend waiting.

This is important to note for any practices aiming simply for wait times under the national average of 20 minutes: even if your wait times are better than average, any amount of waiting is likely frustrating your patients. Employing the tactics above can help you alleviate those frustrations and keep your patients satisfied with your practice.

Most Patients Unwilling to Pay Extra for Expedited Service

Although 97 percent of patients are frustrated by long waits, that doesn’t mean they’re willing to pay to solve the problem—only 22 percent of patients indicated they’d be open to paying a small fee to their doctor’s practice in order to be seen more quickly. While this isn’t an insignificant portion of patients, it’s not enough to warrant levying a fee that could only be spread across 22 percent of your panel.

Conclusions

Patients are nearly unanimous in their dislike of waiting at their doctors’ offices, but there are steps you can take to help alleviate their frustration. Simply notifying patients how long they’ll have to wait can ease the frustration of most patients, as will a personal apology from their doctor when they’ve had to wait.

Of course, increasing your office’s efficiency and ability to stay on schedule can help eliminate wait times altogether. Stay tuned to The Profitable Practice for upcoming articles about improving practice workflow and efficiency.

To further discuss this report or obtain access to any of the charts above, feel free to contact me at melissa@softwareadvice.com.


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