The Patient Experience Begins in the Waiting Room? Not Really!

Five people waiting in waiting room

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Cheerful millennial biracial man using smartphone, sitting at desk , young Afro american guy carefully looking on phone screen while typing urgent message, chatting online or searching in internetBack in 2017, we published an article titled, “The Patient Experience Begins in the Waiting Room”. Since that time the importance of online reviews has increased exponentially. That being the case, patients begin to gather information about their healthcare experience long before they ever arrive at the practice’s waiting room. While patients are much more technology-savvy today than they were four years ago, the healthcare industry lags far behind.

“Technology has completely transformed the customer experience in nearly every industry, except healthcare, where patients continue to get the same clipboard almost every time they walk into an appointment. In an industry where innovation can mean the difference between life and death, it’s amazing what we still cope with. The deluge of data and disjoints between our repositories of it has only grown and is placing an enormous administrative burden on the humans in healthcare at a time when they’re also more burned out than ever.” (1) – Shoshana Deutschkron, chief marketing officer at Olive

Five people waiting in waiting roomEven though the patient’s experience often begins before the patient arrives at the waiting room, what happens in the waiting room still sets the tone for the patient’s overall experience, including the patient’s perception of the care they receive.

“The clinical ambulatory patient experience is heavily influenced by time spent waiting for provider care. Not only are metrics regarding the likelihood to recommend and the overall satisfaction with the experience negatively impacted by longer wait times, but increased wait times also affect perceptions of information, instructions, and the overall treatment provided by physicians and other caregivers.” (2)

So, while those of us working in healthcare wait for technology to catch up with other industries to help reduce patient waiting, the waiting room continues to play a major role, significantly contributing to the overall patient experience.

doctor office waiting roomWhere does that leave us for now? Back to basics. It is imperative that physician practices and other healthcare organizations make the waiting room experience as good as it can be. Here are a few points to consider.

  • Is your office décor up to date and free of tears, damage, and stains?
  • Is there enough comfortable seating?
  • Is the waiting area clean?
  • Have the floors been cleaned recently? Are they free of stains or tears?
  • Is there a trash bin in the lobby?
  • Is there a clock hanging in the waiting room?
  • Is there a bathroom easily accessible? If so, is it cleaned regularly?
  • If you have Wi-fi is there a sign informing patients of the password?
  • If your practice doesn’t already, consider offering complimentary beverages and other refreshments.

Although some of these points are very basic, it is surprising how many of them go unnoticed or unattended too. Consider the fact that while your patients are waiting, they have plenty of time to observe everything in your lobby area. Make sure that their waiting experience reflects the level of quality your patients expect.

Dentist with patientWhether it’s the checkout line at the grocery store, the drive-thru at Starbucks, or the waiting room at your local doctor’s office, waiting is still an inevitable part of our lives. However, today’s consumers are not as compelled to wait as were previous generations. Today’s consumer loves everything to be fast, efficient, and convenient. Healthcare is no longer an exception.

Eliminating or substantially reducing wait time is happening in many aspects of our lives. Considering we can now order groceries online and have them carted right out to us as we conveniently wait in the comfort of our cars in the parking lot, or delivered right to our homes for that matter, we demand convenience.

Worried latin woman reading on smart phone bad news sitting on a couch at homeWhen patients are required to wait, their overall experience is negatively impacted before they ever see their provider. In fact, extended wait times have long been associated with lower patient satisfaction scores. Increasing patient access by utilizing advanced practice providers decreases patient wait times and improves patient satisfaction.

“[T]he positive impact of advanced nurse practitioners on clinical and service-related outcomes: patient satisfaction, waiting times, control of chronic disease, and cost-effectiveness especially when directly compared to medical practitioner-led care and usual care practices – in primary, secondary and specialist care settings involving both adult and pediatric populations.” (3)

Waiting room roundingAnother very effective strategy to improve the waiting room experience is through Waiting Room Rounding. Communicating expected wait times to patients and showing awareness that their time is valuable is a key to giving patients a positive impression of their office visit. Whenever the patient wait is approaching 15 to 20 minutes, designate a support staff member to “round” the waiting area updating the patients. This simple gesture will help with patient expectations and improve patient perceptions of having to wait.

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Thank you!

Jerry L. Stone
MedicalGPS, LLC



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