How to Decrease Patient Wait Times

Six Tips to Overcome Patient Wait Times in Your Practice

To both patients and healthcare service providers, patient wait times are frustrating. A 2017 survey by Merritt Hawkins, examined the time needed to schedule a new patient physician appointment in 15 major metropolitan areas and in 15 mid-sized metropolitan areas, as well as the average office wait time. The study found that Patients are waiting an average of 24 days to schedule an appointment with a doctor, which is up over 30% from the 2014 study.

The last thing a patient looks forward to when visiting a physician, on top of their ailment, is waiting for hours on end just to be attended to. Even with an appointment, a few minutes of delay can turn a potentially successful visit into a nightmare and possibly a negative online review.

On the other hand, for healthcare staff, it takes one aggravated patient to ruin a whole day.  It’s nearly impossible to develop immunity for anger, dissatisfaction, and insults coming from unhappy patients. An easier approach is to come up with a working strategy, rather than to face displeased patients daily.

Here are six tips that a health care institution can use to reduce patient wait times.

Undoing the Wait Time Perception

Patient wait times have often been seen as unavoidable given the uncertain nature of health care services– even if planned for. This notion is the greatest setback in efficiently managing patient wait times. Often, healthcare support staff and physicians feel that nothing can be done.  However, factors like emergencies, no-shows, and matters pertaining to staff can easily be dealt with. The aim is to improve processes within the system for everyone.

Adapting Online Systems to Help With Patient Wait Times

If patients can be encouraged to check in and do the necessary paperwork online before arriving at their appointment, waiting times can be significantly reduced. This works for a couple of reasons. First, they can use the time they would have spent waiting to do more important things. Second, the hospital staff can focus their efforts on the patients due to see the physician. A messaging service integrated with the system becomes useful for notifying patients booked in the queue when their time comes.

No Matter What, Scheduling is Vital

The importance of scheduling is that similar appointments can be clustered together the same day. This minimizes the time spent transitioning to different procedures. Secondly, given a forecast of no-shows, double-booking is sometimes a necessary evil as far as time management is concerned. For example, acute patient appointments and quick follow-ups can be double booked, as they have higher chances of no-shows or shorter than anticipated service delivery time.

Be Proactive with No-Shows

No-shows can really cripple the efforts of an institution to manage its waiting time well. A good way to deal with no-shows is confirming with patients well in advance if they will be there for their appointment. Some institutions have managed successfully by billing no-shows. When patients know that failing to honor an appointment without communicating will cost them, they will eventually learn to take an active responsibility for their appointments.

Intervene on Habitual Late Arrivals

Some patients have a tendency to arrive late for their appointments. The same patients might even disregard the fact that their tardiness affects the entire program of the day. If you notice that a patient is consistently late for appointments, you have probably condoned this habit too long. Excuses for lateness will always be there. However, an institution can adopt a set time frame that patients must arrive in.  If the patient doesn’t show up in time, the appointment is automatically rescheduled.

Make the Most of the Opportune times

Some processes generally take a long time to be carried out. Taking advantage of the in between moments can help. For example, rather than trying to keep your patient busy as you both wait for results, you could work in a quick check-up or a procedure.

In conclusion, the importance of teamwork and evaluation of systems and processes cannot be overemphasized. In order for these strategies to work, embracing team spirit is crucial. This will allow the support staff to understand and adapt their role in the wait time process.

David M. Williams

About David M. Williams

David M. Williams, Chief Strategy Officer for LEVO Health is responsible for leading the creation and execution of all internal and external partnerships, initiatives, corporate development, growth and acquisition efforts. David represents a wealth of expertise in healthcare mergers & acquisitions, business development, commercial real estate development, medical practice management, physician based sales, and is a contributor in multiple industry publications and regularly speaks at industry conferences.

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