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How to Reduce Patient Wait Times?

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On Patient Satisfaction

[By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA]

DEM blue

The traditional linear patient scheduling system is slowly being abandoned by modern medical practitioners; in all venues (medical practices, clinics, hospitals and various other healthcare entities).

Why? Waiting room times are too long!

According to this infographic put together by the folks at evisit.com the amount of time patients spend waiting in your office have a huge effect when it comes to patient satisfaction.

For example, did you know that the national average wait time is currently around 21 minutes!

***

reducepatientwaittime_infographic

 [Click to Enlarge]

Patient Scheduling Issues

Most mature doctors follow a linear (series-singular) time allocation strategy for scheduling patients (i.e., every 15 or 20 minutes).  This can create bottlenecks because of emergencies, late patients, traffic jams, absent office personal, paperwork delays, etc.

Therefore, as proposed by colleague Dr. Neal Baum MD, a practicing urologist in New Orleans, one of these three newer scheduling approaches might prove more useful.  

1. Customized Scheduling

The bottleneck problem may be reduced by trying to customize, estimate or project the time needed for the patient’s next office visit. For example:  CPT #99211 (5 minutes), #99212 (10 minutes), #99213 (15 minutes), #99214 (25 minutes), or #99215 (40 minutes). Occasionally, extra time is need, and can be accommodated, if the allocated times are not too tightly scheduled.   

2. Wave Scheduling

Some patient populations do not mind a brief 20-30 minute wait prior to seeing the doctor.  Wave scheduling assumes that no patient will wait longer than this time period, and that for every three patients; two will be on time and one will be late. This model begins by scheduling the three patients on the hour; and works like this. The first patient is seen on schedule, while the second and third wait for a few minutes.  The later two patients are booked at 20 minutes past the hour and one or both may wait a brief time. One patient is scheduled for 40 minutes past the hour. The doctor then has 20 minutes to finish with the last three patients and may then get back on schedule before the end of the hour. 

3. Bundle Scheduling

Bundling involves scheduling like-patient activities in blocks of time to increase efficiency.  For example, schedule minor surgical checkups on Monday morning, immunizations on Tuesday afternoon, and routine physical examinations on Wednesday evening, or make Thursday kid’s day and Friday senior citizens day. Do not be too rigid, but by scheduling similar activities together, assembly-line efficiency is achieved without assembly line mentality, and allows you to develop the most economically profitable operational flow process possible for the office.  

Patient Self Scheduling (Internet Based Access Management)

New software programs, and internet cloud applications, allow patients to schedule their own appointments over the internet. The software allows solo or individual group physicians with a practice to set their own parameters of time, availability and even insurance plans. Through a series of interrogatories, the program confirms each appointment. When the patient arrives, a software tracker communicates with office staff and follows the patients from check-in, to procedures, to checkout.

Today, many hospitals have even abandoned the check-in or admissions, department. It has been replaced by access management systems.

***

hospital

***

Waiting Room Strategies 

In any potentially detrimental situation, delineate what the staff can do to make it right. A service paradox exists and timely, appropriate action can sometimes build more patient internal satisfaction than if the situation had never occurred.

Take the wait for example. It is not enough to just have policies in place that help prevent a prolonged wait from occurring. There must also be policies in place that ameliorate an adverse situation when it does arise. This can involve placating a patient over long wait, or, reassuring a patient about an empty waiting room.

  • An apology form you and/or the staff might be one technique, “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. Doctor X and I really try to stay on schedule because we know how valuable your time is.”
  • Offering some refreshments might be another.
  • In extreme cases, giving the patient a beeper and turning them loose until you see them may work.

Many patients will be impressed you have even considered how the wait affects them. Sometimes the above management techniques, if the wait is not too offensive, can actually build more patient satisfaction than just seeing them on time.

Conclusion

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4 Responses

  1. “The Psychology of Waiting Lines”

    There has been a good deal of research done on the psychology of waiting. In my quest to better understand this process, I happened to read a paper by David Maister, titled “The Psychology of Waiting Lines.”

    http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2013/04/8-surprising-thoughts-patient-wait-times.html

    Below, I would like to share a number of insights regarding waiting that were highlighted by David Maister in order to help you better understand how your patients feel when they are kept waiting for an appointment.

    Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA
    http://www.amazon.com/Business-Medical-Practice-Transformational-Doctors/dp/0826105750/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1287563112&sr=1-9

    Like

  2. Transform Your Waiting Room

    With double and triple bookings, aging periodicals and the occasional dusty plant, waiting rooms haven’t always gotten the best reputation for tranquility.

    http://medical.gppcpa.wpengine.com/2014/05/20/transform_your_waiting_room/

    Douglas

    Like

  3. 1 in 5 New Patients Waited More Than 4 Weeks For An Appointment

    Athena Health recently published new data on appointment wait times. Here are some key findings from the report:

    • New patients wait an average of 2.7 weeks after calling for their first appointment.
    • Across providers, 10% of new patients were seen the same day.
    • 60% of new patients were scheduled within two weeks.
    • 1 in 5 patients waited more than four weeks for their first appointment.
    • Orthopedic patients were seen the fastest, with an average lead time of 13 days.
    • New ob/gyn patients waited almost 24 days for their first appointment.

    Source: Athena Health, December 11, 2017

    Like

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