An overflow of appointments may not only have unwelcome repercussions for your team’s stress levels and morale; it can also lead to a frustrating and negative experience for your patients. It’s not always possible to avoid delays. If patients go over their allotted consultation times, this may affect every subsequent appointment.
There are, however, three ways to improve the situation for your patients. These can also alleviate the demands on your staff when you are faced with an overflow of appointments.
The Psychology of Waiting
Overflow of appointments inevitably leads to long wait times, which has an impact on patient satisfaction. Researchers have found that waiting times have a negative effect that can alter a patient’s entire experience.
Medical professionals strive to make things better for our patients, and there are three simple things that can be done to engender a much more positive experience for patients whose appointments are delayed.
1: Creating a Positive and Welcoming Experience
You don’t get a second attempt to make a first impression—so make it count. From the moment they walk into your office, your patients form an opinion of you and your practice. Making a good first impression is important, as it can help set the tone for the rest of their visit. Furthermore, creating an environment that is relaxing and calming can ease anxiety and reduce stress to create a more positive experience.
Greet Patients and Tidy Up
Your reception area and waiting room can set the stage, according to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). A warm greeting and the attentiveness of your staff go a long way toward creating a good impression. It is an example of direct messaging to your patients that you are professional and approachable, conveying a totally different message than not being greeted at all, or worse, curtly or impatiently.
Similarly, a waiting area that looks messy and uncared for, with threadbare furniture and strewn with magazines, conveys a rather lax attitude to hygiene and cleanliness that may make your patients think twice about the medical care you provide.
Improve Waiting Area Aesthetics and Amenities
The design of a waiting room can have a big impact on how patients feel. Ensure the décor is airy and use lighting and art to create a calming environment that is comfortable and inviting.
Although many waiting areas have televisions, they are often turned to news channels. This may be well-intentioned but can increase stress for patients who may already be anxious. Think about the channel your television is turned to and consider switching it to something more calming and uplifting, such as a nature or geography channel.
Here are some other things to consider:
- Make sure there is enough seating for everyone.
- Make their wait as comfortable as can be.
- Arrange the furniture so that people can easily talk to one another.
- Have plenty of reading material available.
- Keep the room clean and well-organized.
- If you have the room, make a children’s area with a selection of toys and books.
- Add essential oils and plants to freshen air and stimulate the senses.
2: Keeping the Lines of Communication Open
Studies have shown that healthcare providers can improve the waiting experience for patients by being open and communicative. A patient’s willingness to wait can be increased by:
Being Honest. Let patients know there is a delay
The sooner you let patients know there is a wait, the better. Give them a realistic expectation as to how long the delay is likely to be. This gives your patients options. They can decide to wait, or perhaps they may want to go out for a coffee. Alternatively, they may want to reschedule their appointment.
Apologizing explicitly for the delay
A genuine apology is important and can have a significantly positive impact on the outcome of a situation. A prompt and sincere expression of regret is the best way to keep patients happy and can ensure they come back, preventing a potential loss of revenue.
There are ways that businesses and corporations should and should not apologize. If your apology is not sincere, it may do more harm than good. Make sure your team knows how to handle apologies, and keep waiting patients informed about what’s happening.
3: Using Technology to Improve Efficiency
Staff Scheduling Software
Healthcare is the second largest sector hit by the Great Resignation, and economic modeling data shows there will be a shortage of over 3 million healthcare workers by 2026. Following the pandemic, healthcare services across the world are struggling with mounting staff shortages that jeopardize patients having access to services and cause additional stress to an already overstretched workforce.
Thus, it’s more important than ever to keep hold of good staff and to have a flexible workforce who can take on additional workloads or swap shifts when required. You and your team can get started with scheduling software for healthcare that allows you to manage and schedule time off, swap shifts, track overtime, and more. You can see at a glance who is available to take on an additional shift if a member of your team is absent, so disruption of patient appointments is kept to a minimum.
Digital Waiting Room Software
Patient management software handles all aspects of patient flow, including checking, triage, preparation, treatment, and payment. It offers a cloud-based app solution to automate the patient management process by alerting patients when their appointment is scheduled, allowing them to book from their car or a nearby coffee shop, and schedule reminders that reduce the chance of non-attendances or cancellations. Patients receive an alert when there is a delay, so they can turn up for their appointment later and keep your waiting room from overflowing.
Telehealth, or remote patient monitoring, is the use of technology to allow patients to communicate with their doctors via phone, video, or the internet. The use of this technology really took off during the pandemic—despite it being around for years before 2020.
Various polls have shown that telehealth is generally welcomed by Americans with one in three stating they prefer it to seeing the doctor face-to-face. It’s not hard to see why. For the elderly, infirm, and sick patients, it is a convenient solution to seeing the doctor without the inconvenience of traveling to the medical clinic.
For healthcare workers, telehealth is being used to provide services such as remote or home-based care, visit monitoring, symptom surveillance, and other care coordination. Telehealth is also an effective solution for triaging patients with emergency dental problems so that patients can be scheduled with a regular appointment slot to prevent overflow.
Adopt a Patient Portal
Patient portals are designed to help healthcare workers better engage with their patients and improve the overall experience. They provide access to medical records, which are often requested by patients but not always available. They allow patients to ask questions or provide feedback so their voices are heard.
With a patient portal and electronic health records (EHRs), patients can access and update their records. So, amendments to records that are ordinarily carried out at the reception desk can be completed by the patient on their mobile phone or other electronic devices. Similarly, new patient information, health questionnaires, consent forms, and other documents can be filled in by patients at home instead of in the waiting room, which keeps patient flows moving and prevents congested waiting rooms.
There is evidence that patients are positive about using patient portals and that they lead to a reduction in missed appointments. Along with your staff being able to devote time to their actual work rather than administration, patient portals are an asset you should seriously consider.
There isn’t just one fix to improving patient experience when faced with an overflow of patients because there isn’t just one factor that causes it. The key is to introduce measures that ameliorate the effects of scheduling congestion with more efficient use of your team’s time.
We are currently undergoing a technological revolution that will be the main driver of improving efficiency in healthcare systems for both healthcare workers and patients. Artificial intelligence (AI) is already upon us but will become increasingly important in the future to aid medical professionals in providing treatment and care for an aging population. Embracing it will help to keep your patients happy and enable you to grow your practice long into the future.
Guest post by Deputy
Deputy is your all-in-one shift scheduling and planning solution. Their overarching mission is to free you from spreadsheets, keep your team in sync, and burnout-free.