Time is something we are all in short supply of. This is a distinct realization many patients have when waiting to see their healthcare provider. Wait times are a major drain on the patient experience, with a staggering 97% of patients frustrated by wait times, according to a 2013 study by SoftwareAdvice. I personally am due to see a doctor who is truly amazing, but dread waiting over an hour just to get called back. Then it’s usually another 30 minutes before the doctor comes in. I know this isn’t typical, but it is very real and if it’s happening in your office too, change is in order.According to a Harvard Medical School study, the average patient spends 121 minutes visiting a doctor. This includes travel time, wait time, time spent filling out paperwork and, of course, time spent waiting to be seen by the provider. They have even put a dollar amount on the lost wages for each visit, $43. While this may not seem like a large amount, it is probably more than the patient is paying for their copay. All told, Americans spend approximately 1.1 billion hours caring for themselves or others valued at a whopping $52 billion annually!
Savvy healthcare facilities agree that there is a strong need to streamline the patient visit to ensure the time spent in the office is efficient. While, short of telemedicine, there is little providers can do to improve the drive time, they are getting creative implementing other time savers for improving the patient wait.
- Online forms
While intake forms are a necessary part of a healthcare visit, there is no reason a patient cannot fill out them online via their patient portal. If this isn’t an option, email new patients the paperwork that is needed for their upcoming appointment and ask them to complete it and bring it with them to their appointment. Providers can also put intake forms on their website that patients can easily download. Some EHR companies, like eClinicalWorks, offer a myriad of services such as secure messaging, patient reminders and the ability for patients to complete their paperwork from their portal. Providers and their teams should encourage patients to complete their forms online in preparation for their appointment.
- Prepare for the appointment
Prior to the patients arrival it should be determined if any test results, labs, x-rays, etc. are needed to facilitate a productive examination. If things are needed, either remind the patient bring them to the appointment, or request them ahead of time to ensure they are available for the appointment. If the practice is transitioning to EHR, enter the patient information into the system ahead of their appointment. In a busy office, this one small task can make a big impact on how quickly patients are seen. It also makes the patient feel you are truly prepared for their visit.
- Group Similar Appointments
Arrange the schedule so providers see similar patients at set periods of time during the day. By grouping the schedule with similar appointments, the provider is able to see patients more quickly by avoiding the need to transition between different types of visits and minimizing the chance of running behind. This small change will have a big impact on improving the patient wait and the patient’s experience.
- Improve Patient Communication
Have you ever been waiting so long for a doctor’s visit that you wonder if they forgot about you? If so, try to recall how that made you feel. Probably frustrated, maybe even angry. If your office is running behind, communicate estimated wait times to the patient(s). According to SoftwareAdvice, 80% of patients would be less frustrated with wait times if they knew how long their wait would be. This is a very easy thing to do, practices just need to get used to doing it.
While eradicating wait times completely may seem an improbable goal, there are changes practices can make so they are less intrusive for the patient and the staff. Long wait times are not only a pain point for patients, they are an indicator of practice inefficiencies and lost revenue. Don’t let your practice fall short of meeting its’ growth goals due to long wait times. Start making these small changes today.