Minimize Waiting (and the Negative Perception of Waiting) in Your Healthcare Practice

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Whether we’re waiting in line for a fancy coffee, waiting for a call back from our physician’s nurse, or waiting to see our healthcare provider, we place a massive value on our time. We often get more than just a little irritated when we believe someone else is wasting our time. According to GrooveHQ statistics, 73% of consumers agree that the most critical thing a company can do to provide a good customer experience is to value their time. My experience in healthcare tells me that number is a little low when applied to our industry.
In 2021, nearly 30% of all M3-Patient Experience comments from patients to their providers were in regards to wait times. Sitting in a clinic’s waiting room or waiting for a provider’s phone call can feel like an eternity when a patient’s anxiety is up or they are in physical pain. 
Let’s take a look at some ways you can determine how your practice measures up, and explore a few time-saving, communication, and perception-of-time tips that your patients will appreciate.
  1. Waiting in the Office: It Doesn’t Have to be Called the “Waiting Room”
  2. Waiting for Test Results: Setting Expectations Makes the Difference 
  3. Waiting for Call-backs:  Acknowledge the Patient’s Inquiry

Waiting in the Office: It Shouldn’t be Called the “Waiting Room”

First of all, if your practice still refers to the Reception Area as the Waiting Room, a good way to start the transition to a more patient-centered culture is to refer to the area where patients are received for check-in as something other than the Waiting Room. We recommend calling it your Reception Area. Whatever name your practice selects, choose a name that your team can support, and most of all, select a name that has a positive connotation that says goodbye to the Waiting Room.
Columbia University’s David Maister has researched and written extensively on the psychological perception of waiting.

“the waiting-line experience in a service facility significantly affects our overall perceptions of the quality of service provided.”
“We must learn to influence how the customer feels about a given length of waiting time. ”
“Occupied Time Feels Shorter Than Unoccupied Time.”

What does that mean for your practice?  Create ways to occupy the patient’s time while they are waiting in the Reception Area.  Time passes “faster” when our time is occupied. Some common time-passing techniques might include:
  • Patient Rounding within the Reception Area
  • Provide Free WiFi
  • Install televisions containing patient education and/or a review of provider BIOs
  • Provide reading materials
  • Provide bottled water and perhaps other refreshments such as a high-quality cup of coffee
  • Ensure the Reception Area is neat and clean and encourages the patient to relax
  • Encourage support staff to engage patients in meaningful conversation
MedicalGPS clients can follow the steps below to see how their practice measures up when it comes to the patient’s perception of Office Wait Time. Non-subscribers can follow along with the following anonymized chart.
  1. Login to M3-Patient Experience
  2. Click “Reporting”
  3. Click “Benchmarking”
  4. Select a Provider, the desired Date Range, and the Provider’s Specialty
  5. Scroll down to the bar chart titled, “Office Wait Time”

As depicted in the example bar chart below, the percentage of patients that selected the Top Box answer on the Office Wait Time question will display.  Your selected provider in green, your practice’s aggregated percentage in red, your organization’s aggregated average in orange, and the MedicalGPS national Top Box average percentage in blue.


Waiting for Test Results: Setting Expectations Makes the Difference

Moving at a Snail’s Pace is what it feels like when waiting on test results.  To help patients better manage their wait for test results, try some or all of the following.
  • Ask the patient if their healthcare provider explained when they should expect their test results
  • Reiterate what the patient was told by their healthcare provider
  • If the patient was told, “Your test results should be back within two weeks”, have the patient place “Test Results Received?” on their calendar two weeks out from their visit date
  • With compassion and empathy, ask the patient to resist calling the office prior to the date marked on their calendars
  • Assist the patient with accessing their patient portal

The amount of time expended (read, waisted) can reach huge amounts as it relates to anxious patients calling the office prematurely to get test results.  If you’re reading this article, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.  With the right amount of compassionate patient education and empathetic support, patient expectations can be set appropriately by a loving/caring healthcare team like your team!  I encourage you to support your team in their efforts to set patient expectations around receiving test results.

The importance of handling the patient’s telephone call in a timely manner, and returning the patient’s call on the same day cannot be overstated; the over all impact, both good and bad, can be measured throughout the patient experience continuum.

Waiting for Call-backs: Acknowledge the Patient’s Inquiry

We certainly covered suggestions to help your practice improve Same-Day Call Backs in the past. Same-Day-Call-Backs are so very important to building strong patient relationships, and using good Same-Day-Call-Back techniques can be a huge time-saver for both patients and support staff.
Above all else, call the patient back on the same day, even if an answer or resolution to the patient’s inquiry has not been realized.  Let the patient know you and your team are working on getting the information the patient needs.
  • Collaborate with Providers and Staff to Develop written call-back guidelines and standards
  • Set a same-day call-back cut-off time i.e. messages left after 4:00 PM will be returned the next morning by 10:00 AM
  • Ensure call-back commitment window can be consistently achieved by your team
  • Advertise the cut-off time as often as possible with every patient  — setting expectations is key
  • Assign each message to a staff member for follow-up
  • Track & communicate message return compliance
On-Demand Video Demo of M3 Patient Experience

Please let us know if you have comments or questions, and subscribe to our Email Updates so that you can be assured to receive Thinking Thursdays TIPs.

Thank you!

Jerry L. Stone
MedicalGPS, LLC

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