The Waiting Game
One Sunday last month, I experienced my first asthma attack in over two decades.
My husband called some friends of ours to come stay with the kids so he could drive me to the hospital. In a rush to get to the Emergency Room, my husband left my cell phone with our oldest child in case she needed to reach us before our friends could get there. To make a long story short, we ended up calling an ambulance and my breathing began to quickly improve after receiving an Albuterol breathing treatment. Once we arrived at the hospital, the ER physician informed me he needed to run several tests.
“No problem…,” I thought to myself. “…Now that my breathing has stabilized, I’ll optimize this time to check some emails, text my family to update them, or at least cruise around on the internet.” Much to my dismay, I quickly remembered my husband left my cell phone with our oldest child. I gave myself a little pep-talk, “Amanda, you can do this. You’re not obsessed with your phone. You can remain composed and patient for an unknown amount of time in a silent room, by yourself. You’re fine. Everything’s fine.”
The clock on the wall began to taunt me as I watched the seconds turn into minutes, the minutes into hours. I counted my fingers, counted my blessings, and counted the ceiling-tiles to pass the time. It was the longest two hours of my life and I failed my personal-patience-challenge miserably.
Let’s face it, we are not good at waiting. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s reality.
Everything in our culture tells us to hustle, counting every minute as invaluable. Even while waiting in line to vote yesterday, I could not stand the thought of wasted time, so I pulled out my phone and ordered my groceries to be dropped off on my front porch. The technology that’s been created to make our lives run more efficiently is mind-blowing and the world of healthcare is no exception to this.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed a lot of inefficiencies in the healthcare system and unfortunately, healthcare facilities that have not adapted may be faced with closing up shop, if they haven’t already. Those that have adapted (or are in the process of adapting) are now held to higher standards than ever to deliver healthcare in a timely, personable, and safe manner.
Growing Interest in Telehealth
Telehealth has been a huge solution to providing quality care in a timely and safe manner for both the patient and the provider, and it is growing in popularity.
According to an article published by First Stop Health, “40% of millennials said that a telemedicine option was ‘extremely or very important.’ Numbering 83 million, millennials now comprise the largest segment of today’s workforce.” (1)
Furthermore, RelyMD reports, “20% of patients have changed doctors due to long wait times and 30% have walked out of an appointment because of a long wait.” (2)
Patients clearly value their time. Take a look at these statistics published by eVisit regarding the patient’s desire for convenience.
- 7% (17 million) of Americans are willing to switch doctors due to issues with availability of Telehealth appointments.
- 76% of patients prioritize the access to a medical professional over seeing one in person.
- Although cyber security is a common issue in other sectors, less than 2% of telemedicine patients are concerned about online security.
- 21% of respondents use telemedicine due to lack of travel time.
In this same blog, author Teresa Lafolla writes, “It turns out that across many different surveys in the field, patients are very interested in using telehealth. Telemedicine visits can save them time and money, especially when they help avoid a trip to the ER. Commonly cited concerns such as online security really don’t seem to be high on the list for most patients considering telehealth.” (3)
The demand for remote, telehealth appointments is at an all-time high and once again, healthcare facilities are faced with the task of streamlining this new service to provide timely and quality care.
Graham Kates with CBS News reports that the average wait time for a telehealth appointment was twenty-seven minutes back in January of this year. That time jumped up to thirty-three minutes in March (4).
According to the previously mentioned eVisit blog, the current average wait time for a telehealth visit today is twenty minutes. (3)
While this is an improvement, I would argue it does not meet the patient’s desires and expectations in today’s tech-saturated world.
Clearer, More Transparent Information
Over the weekend I spoke with someone who experienced a wait time of nineteen minutes in a virtual waiting room. She expressed that nineteen minutes spent staring at a blank screen, while waiting for her doctor, without any communication was very frustrating. To make matters worse, once her doctor did show up for the telehealth appointment he did not acknowledge her having to wait. No apology or explanation was offered.
According to an inquiry published by NBCI, “It is not always possible to prevent dissatisfaction with waiting, or to actually reduce waiting times by increasing resources such as increased staffing. However, several improvements in care services can be considered. Our suggestions include providing clearer, more transparent information to keep patients informed about the health care services they may receive, and the health care professionals who are responsible for those services.” (5)
Healthcare providers can relieve a great deal of patient frustration if they simply communicate with their patients. Imagine if the individual mentioned above had known how long she needed to wait for her appointment. She could have used that time reading a book, throwing in a load of laundry, or something else productive. Instead, she viewed a blank screen for nineteen minutes. In her mind, valuable time was wasted.
Kathryn Skuba highlights the benefits of communicating with patients in her blog, “5 Ways to Improve Your Waiting Room.” She writes, “Build trust and rapport with your patients by alerting them of any delays in their scheduled appointment time. Many practices are now opting for screens or kiosks displaying appointment time and delay information.
Text updates are also helpful even if the patient is already in route to their appointment. They may have time to run an errand or two on the way. If you can reduce a patient’s wait time from 30 minutes to 5 minutes they are 30% more likely to recommend their provider.” (6)
Simply informing the patient of their estimated wait time can alleviate frustration. In the very least, respecting the patient by valuing their time and apologizing for any wait can go a long way.
Wait Time = Opportunity
Patients are loving the new conveniences of Telehealth and if done well, it can become a great tool to help your practice run more efficiently.
Perhaps I’m just dreaming here, but what if the virtual waiting room was seen as an opportunity for healthcare providers to communicate with their patients? In addition to updates regarding their appointment status, patients could watch a virtual presentation on the latest information regarding their doctor’s field of specialty for example. Or perhaps physicians could pre-record several key points they’d like to communicate to their patients while they wait. It could be educational, fun, and personable while alleviating some of the pain of waiting.
Feel free to share what you might want your patients to know while they’re waiting in the comment section below!
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Jerry L. Stone