10 Ways to Ease the Pain of Patient Wait Times

Waiting rooms aren’t going away anytime soon. In fact, patient wait times are longer than ever, thanks to an aging population, a shortage of doctors, and fluctuations in health insurance availability. Across the country, the average wait time is about 20 minutes. And results of recent survey show that new patients in 15 major metropolitan areas are waiting 30 percent longer than they were three years ago.

Many physicians don’t see wait times as a major problem. But practices that fail to address frustrations from long waits could lose more than 50 percent of their patient base in as little as 12 months. So rest assured, it’s an issue that deserves your attention. Here are 10 things you can do to minimize frustrations for your patients.

  1. Gather information before appointments. Give patients the option to fill out forms on their own time so their paperwork is ready prior to their arrival. This can also help you determine whether certain symptoms will require additional attention.
  2. Use an online patient portal. With the right technology, patients can fill out paperwork, access updates and submit insurance information from home or on the go.
  3. Implement a mobile queue. These apps give projected wait times and allow patients to let you know if they’re running behind. Before they arrive for an appointment, patients join a virtual waiting room—one that updates them on their position in line so they can relax somewhere else while they wait.
  4. Separate phone work from check-ins. One staff member can handle check-ins, while another answers phones, does scheduling and reaches out to patients to collect information for the following day’s appointments.
  5. Utilize a software program to send appointment reminders. Automated reminders can be sent via email and text. Text reminders decrease phone time, and doctors can even answer patient questions, which means less back-and-forth in the exam room.
  6. Create, communicate and enforce policies for late arrivals and cancellations. Some practices send warning letters if a patient is more than five minutes late. It’s also not uncommon to charge cancellation or late fees. Just make sure you give patients advance notice if your policies change—and you may even want to offer a grace period. Above all, let them know you value their time as much as you value your own.
  7. Hire more staff—even if it’s just part-time. Long wait times can cost you, in the form of cancelled appointments and negative word-of-mouth, so this could actually save you money in the long run. You can also improve the efficiency of existing employees by holding regular performance reviews, rewarding high-achievers with bonuses or gift cards, and hosting team-building events.
  8. Provide realistic updates. Office staff should inform patients as early as possible about delays, changes in a doctor’s schedule and unforeseen cancellations. If you’re running more than a half hour behind, consider having someone call or text patients with an update.
  9. Conduct a survey to identify bottlenecks. It shows your patients that you value their time. Try a survey that tracks each patient from arrival to the exam room. To pinpoint consistent problems, employ the survey across different days and weeks.
  10. Create a pleasant place to wait. Offer a TV and free Wifi, stock current magazines, and make sure the seating is comfortable and in good shape. Complimentary coffee/tea is also a good idea.

Clearly, long wait times can undermine doctor-patient trust. Luckily, there are workable solutions that can lead to a more efficient practice and happier, more loyal patients. AssuranceMD can help you enhance the doctor-patient relationship. Click HERE to find out more.