Managing The Patient’s Wait Time

Have you ever had to wait a long time at the doctors office? Or maybe had to stand in a long line at the Department of Public Safety, or been stuck on an airplane that can’t land? What irritated you the most? Was it the feeling of powerlessness or uncertainty of the situation? The key to happy patients who have to wait is good communication by team members that is honest and open with the patient. In order to minimize the waiting process and feelings of uncertainty or irritability by the patient, make sure while they wait they are informed and comfortable. 
Ideas to Manage The Wait:
  • Change your “waiting room” to a “reception area”. This will help change the patient’s attitude towards their wait time. Be sure to change signage and how you refer to the waiting area. Instead of creating an assumption that you expect patients to wait, implement that phrase “we are ready to receive you.”
  • Be sure to greet patiently kindly. Welcome them with a smile, always refer to them by their name, greet them, and maintain eye contact. The goal is to make this interaction as pleasurable as possible, similar to a first impression. If they perceive the receptionist as kind and understanding, they will be more willing to accept a longer wait time. 
  • Be sure to always keep the patients informed about their wait. If long waits are common in your practice, strive to be as proactive and open about delays as possible. 
  • For patients who have been waiting longer than 15 minutes, notify them of the delay by approaching them in the “reception area”, or politely call them to the front desk if you are unable to leave. Always apologize for the delay. Give them an estimated wait time, however be sure to slightly over estimate so they are pleased when the wait time is shorter. Be sure to communicate every 15 minutes; this demonstrates to the patients that you respect their time.
  • Open the front desk window. Keeping a barrier or window closed makes it harder for you to visually scan the reception area and notice patients who have been waiting too long. 
  • Maintain tidiness in the reception area. Make sure there are a variety of magazines that would interest many different groups of people. Make sure to pick up any trash, put back misplaced magazines, and fix rearranged furniture. 
  • Create a pleasant environment- whether that be natural lighting, soft music, a reasonable temperature, clean bathrooms, furniture, or interior decorations. If your practice serves children, be sure to have a separate area for those that are sick. 
  • Add amenities, be creative- Your reception area should have a few different things that can keep waiting patients occupied. Some examples include a tv, magazines, games, coloring books, word searches, notepads, toy bin, water or coffee station, aquarium with fish, recipe and coupon exchange box, etc.  (Make sure to regularly clean in the time of COVID.)
  • Focus on being efficient in the processes that happen at the front desk, eg. pull up the patients account, scan cards or documents, or handing medical history or registration papers. To help reduce the time these tasks take, automate the sign-in/arrival process, reduce the amount of paperwork patients fill out, get the patient’s signature electronically (only once), get patients pre-registered by phone, kiosk, or patient portal, or use dual monitor screens to reduce registration time. 
Adding Value to the Wait:
  • Provide a variety of blank forms that patients can fill out before their visits including- “Issues I would like to speak to my doctor about today” This helps patients hone in on what they want to talk to the doctor about. 
  • “Medications I need to renew” This helps patients remember what medications they need to talk to the doctor about. 
  • Patient education materials- this will help learn more about their medical issues.
  • Medical history form-speeds up pre-exam preparation for the medical assistant or nurse. 
Call us today if you need help managing your practice. 877-463-1110