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Lessons from the Waiting Room

Monday, January 28, 2013
David Fried, Software Advice People hate waiting--especially in a doctor’s office. And while the average wait time in a general practitioner's office is only about twenty minutes, a Journal of General Internal Medicine study found that most individuals still thought this was too long.

One obvious solution to improving wait times is to ensure that your office is running smoothly. No matter what, patients will still arrive a tad late and doctors will still go over the allotted appointment times. There will likely always be some form of a wait in the doctor’s office. The secret, then, is to make the wait seem as painless as possible.

David Fried, contributor at the online software consultancy, Software Advice, researched how other industries transformed wasted, unoccupied time into more productive, occupied time. Here are his suggestions, along with their approximate costs for your practice:

  • Hair salons: Offer a complimentary (hot) beverage. Cost: $5/day. A hot drink takes a couple minutes to brew/steep, and even longer to consume. If you call a patient before they finish their drink, they’ll like perceive their time in the waiting room as not enough, rather than too long.
  • Theme parks: Overestimate the wait time. Cost $0. Pleasantly surprise individuals by providing them a wait time 5-10 minutes longer than you truly expect. This also gives you some buffer room if appointments continue to last longer than anticipated.
  • Deli counters: Provide a number queue. Cost: Couple hundred for monitor/software. From an article in the Harvard Business Review, individuals value transparency over a short wait time. Ask patients to “take a number,” then show patients where they stand in the overall queue.
  • Restaurants: Coloring activities for kids. Cost: A few cents per child. Pediatricians do a good job of keeping children occupied, but this is an easy solution for any type of medical practice. Crayola even provides free educational coloring pages about the human body to download on their website. All you need is a box of crayons and you should be good to go.
  • Coffee shops: Free access to Wi-Fi. Cost: Approximately $50/month. Allow waiting patients to get some work done or enjoy their desired form of online entertainment by providing access to free Wi-Fi.
  • Call centers: Call them when the doctor is ready. Cost: $0. If your practice has longer wait times, it might be worthwhile to offer patients the option to leave and complete errands nearby. You can take their number and give them a call or text when the doctor is almost ready.
  • Bars: Provide access to a TV. Cost: Varies...but Cyber Weekend is a great time to find an inexpensive flat-panel TV and DVD player! Finally, an inexpensive television is always an easy solution to help patients pass the time why they wait for the doctor.

It’s important to remember that reducing the perceived time in a waiting room is key to improving patient satisfaction. You might not be able to shorten the time in the waiting room, but you can make patients a bit more comfortable while they do wait.

Tags: responsiveness, access
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