4 Cures for Extended Patient Wait Times

The third consecutive episode of Judge Judy finished, so the patient opens a dated People magazine and stares awkwardly at a still pregnant Kate Middleton for what seems like an eternity. This becomes irritating so the patient reaches for their iPhone and begins tapping the keys incessantly. Time is at a standstill, and the patient’s frustration is about to boil over.

Scenarios like these play out in practice waiting rooms all of the time. But did you know they could have a detrimental effect on how patients feel about physicians? Studies from multiple universities have found a significant correlation between long patient wait times and patient dissatisfaction.

And what do dissatisfied patients mean to practice? Well, it means an increased likelihood of patients seeking care elsewhere and a decreased probability of referrals to your practice. Like with any other type of business, a dissatisfied customer base will undoubtedly hurt your bottom line.

Unfortunately, it’s going to become even more difficult to stay on schedule with the influx of Affordable Care Act patients coming in 2014, which will likely force practices to take on more patients each day

Luckily, there are a few remedies to lengthy patient wait times that contribute significantly to improving patient satisfaction.

Book Patients at Shorter Intervals

A common cause for falling behind schedule with appointments is double booking. Although it may serve as a safety plan against patient no-shows, it usually means someone is left waiting when both patients show up on time. This delay then trickles down to patients scheduled later in the day.

Instead of double booking, schedule patients in shorter intervals. For example, rather than scheduling two patients in a 15-minute slot, schedule one every ten minutes. This creates a slightly longer grace period for each individual patient.

Adopt PM and EHR Software

Health IT software can help your practice in a variety of areas, with patient wait times being one of the most prevalent.

Practice management (PM) software with complete patient overviews can help your staff see where resources need to be allocated in real-time. This helps avoid bottlenecks and produces a smoother patient flow.

Your PM system can be supplemented with an EHR that speeds up clinical encounters as well. Customizable chart templates allow you to find the most efficient layout, so you can chart more rapidly. Features like ePrescribing also minimize written tasks down to a couple of clicks, leaving more time to focus on treating patients.

Stick To Your Schedule

The first part of staying on schedule is showing up on time. Physician tardiness is one of the primary contributors to long patient wait times.

The second is showing patients a downside to showing up late. Without consequences, patients will continue to be tardy because many aren’t aware of the stress delays put on a practice’s schedule.

It’s ok to allow patients a grace period of five to ten minutes from their scheduled appointment time, but no more. If they arrive after the grace period, place them at the end of the line or have them reschedule. It isn’t fair for the patients who showed up on time to face long delays because one patient showed up late.

Create a Buffer Period to Begin the Day

Once you fall behind schedule, it’s difficult to keep delays from snowballing. So it’s best to remain on schedule for as long as possible. This includes getting started on the right foot.

Create a sufficient buffer period between the time your staff arrives and the first patients. This gives you enough time to set up. This depends on both the staff size and physical size of your practice, but there shouldn’t be a mad scramble at the beginning of every day.

The extra bit in wages and utilities you’ll pay for having the staff come in slightly earlier will be canceled out by the money you save by not having them stay later.

Have enough dissatisfied patients and your practice will see the financial effects sooner rather than later. By cutting down patient wait times, you keep patients and pocketbooks happy.

Staffing in the New Economy

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