If you’ve taken a close look at the online reviews of your medical practice, you already know that the majority of comments have little to do with the doctor, and more to do with the practice environment, non-medical staff and the amount of time a patient spends in the waiting room before seeing the physician. The waiting room of a medical practice is routinely neglected, although it’s often a patient’s first impression of the practice and where they spend most of their time during a routine medical visit. Improving your waiting room, including the amount of time a patient is there, is key to better reviews on online doctor rating websites, patient retention and the overall satisfaction of your patients.
We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in the doctor’s office hoping each time the door separating you from the physician opens, there will be a nurse holding a file with your name on it. You wait. You read. You wait some more, and suddenly the door opens, but the nurse isn’t holding your file. She calls the woman next to you. But wait, that woman came in at least 20 minutes after you did. What’s going on here? Did the lady at the window even see your name on the list?
Look at a lengthy wait time from a patient’s point of view. They don’t know the behind-the-scenes happenings, or that the person being called ahead of them is there to see a different doctor. A patient’s perception is their reality, and while a long wait time doesn’t necessarily mean the medical office is being poorly run, it can certainly seem that way.
A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information reveals, “Changes in the wait experience can decrease the perceived wait times without a change in actual wait times.” The study goes on to suggest that a more engaged and personable front office staff gives patients the perception of better care.
While you may not be able to guarantee each patient that they will be seen in a certain amount of time, it is a good idea to set the expectation for how long your patient can expect to wait when they arrive. Keep in mind that uncertain wait times will always seem longer than expected waits. Physician practice management companies have introduced ideas like inviting patients to let the office staff know if they have not been called within 15 minutes of their appointment time, or voicing to patients when they arrive what the anticipated wait time should be. Having an idea of when they will be seen, allows patients to relax a bit in an environment that may already cause some anxiety.
We all know that when we’re focused on something (other than watching the clock) time seems to pass more quickly. Consider the last business trip or vacation you took in your car. Could you imagine driving, or being a passenger in a vehicle for an extended amount of time without music or conversation? So it goes with your waiting room. Offer your patients more than six-month-old magazines donated to your office by patients or the local library. In fact, it may be time for a complete overhaul of your waiting room entertainment. Many practice management solutions groups suggest offering iPad minis, which can be tethered to the furniture to prevent the tablets from disappearing. Also, keep your TV tuned to a popular channel targeted toward your patient demographic and make sure your magazines or newspapers are up to date and regularly changed out.
It can be a challenge to minimize wait time, but any effort your medical office can make toward seeing each patient at their set appointment time will give the patient a sense of quality care, leading them to not only become a loyal long-term patient but to also suggest your doctors to family and friends.