Few things frustrate patients more than waiting for a long time to see their medical provider. In fact, long wait times are a crucial factor that negatively impacts patient satisfaction. This should actually be good news for physicians. One of the easiest ways to improve the patient experience is to reduce patient wait times.

At first glance, wait times may not seem like a huge problem. The average patient wait time is about 18 minutes across different physician specialties and US cities. But waiting clearly matters to patients. According to a survey of 5,000 patients, 97 percent say they are frustrated by doctor office delays.

Other studies of primary care offices show how longer patient wait times impact patient satisfaction. Patients that wait longer before being seen report being less satisfied with their overall visit. A surprising 20 percent of patients say they would change providers after waiting for a long time for their visit.

Ten ways to reduce patient wait times

Wait times have improved slightly in recent years. Still, about half of medical practices say they haven’t recently changed processes to reduce patient wait times. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to do just that. Here are ten practical strategies for reducing patient wait times at your practice.

1. Gather patient information before the appointment

One of the simplest ways to reduce patient wait times is by preventing delays at check-in. Does your office staff gather insurance information and patient history when scheduling? Are patients asked to complete the necessary forms before arrival? Streamlining data and paperwork collection will help patients be ready for an appointment when they arrive at the office.

2. Adopt a patient portal

Patient portals are an increasingly popular way to take much of the data collection process online. Portals are a secure online website that gives patients convenient 24-hour access to personal health information. An intuitive portal can free up medical staff time by allowing patients to review educational materials, schedule non-urgent appointments, and update their medical history online.

3. Streamline clinical workflow

Making your practice more efficient has many benefits, including reduced patient wait times. You can streamline your clinical workflow using high- and low-tech solutions. For example, try to improve your medical team’s communication, meaningfully integrate third-party EHR apps, or simply delegate documentation to other trained staff.

4. Use secure messaging

Most EHR systems now offer a secure messaging feature that provides an alternative way to communicate important information to patients. Secure messaging can decrease the number of phone calls your practice receives, eliminate phone tag problems, and allow physicians and staff to respond more quickly to patient queries.

5. Stick to a policy for no-shows and late arrivals

Now’s the time to solidify a procedure for dealing with no-shows or patients who arrive late for their appointment. Set a policy to reschedule after a maximum late arrival time and consider late fees for repeated cancellations or no-shows. Setting and communicating these policies can help show patients that you value their time as much as they do.

6. Identify bottlenecks with a survey

You may not know what causes wait times, and a little information can go a long way. eVisit suggests handing out a simple survey to track how much time patients spend in the reception area, in the exam room, and with their doctor.

7. Use a mobile queue

Implementing a mobile queue tool is a great way to keep wait times down and patients happy. Applications like Qless can give patients greater control over their time and help you manage patient flow. Users can join a virtual line that updates their position in real-time, so they can grab a coffee instead of sitting in the waiting room.

8. Embrace telemedicine

Virtual treatment options can eliminate time spent traveling to the office or sitting in the waiting room. Telehealth can also streamline documentation, prevent no-shows or late arrivals, and cut the average office visit time in half. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to telehealth, but experts say patient preferences will sustain it. 

9. Provide a comfortable reception area

You can’t completely eliminate wait times, but you can make the waiting room a pleasant space for your patients. Improving the waiting room experience can be as simple as providing fast, secure medical office Wi-Fi. Those wanting to go deeper can restructure the waiting room to optimize seating, lighting, and sound in line with evidence-based strategies that improve patient satisfaction.

10. Transform the waiting room into an opportunity

What if the waiting room were good for more than just waiting? Researchers have argued that the waiting room could be an opportunity rather than an annoyance. Imagine a new role in the care team – a waiting room manager who transforms passive waiting into active care. This person could use the waiting room to screen, monitor, and educate patients. Rethinking the waiting room as an opportunity is the first step toward using this space to improve patient satisfaction and health outcomes.

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