Five Tips to Reduce Patient Dissatisfaction with Wait Times

January 12, 2014
David Doyle

Here are some low- and no-cost ways physicians can reduce wait times and increase patient satisfaction.

According to a recent study released by Software Advice, 97 percent of patients are frustrated by wait times at the doctor’s office. Fortunately there are some low-cost and even cost-free ways for physicians to reduce overall patient dissatisfaction with wait times.

1. Keep Patients Occupied

Idle time tends to feel longer; so one way to make a long wait more bearable is to keep your patients occupied. Many practices accomplish this by having patients fill out paperwork, but too much busy work creates additional frustrations. The recent widespread implementation of electronic health records (EHRs) makes this a short-term solution at best.

One tried-and-true method for keeping patients occupied is to stock the waiting room with a wide selection of current magazines, newspapers, and other reading materials. For a more modern approach, consider adding complimentary Wi-Fi service so patients can use their smartphones, tablets, or laptops while they wait. Software Advice reported that 60 percent of their study respondents believed that access to free Wi-Fi would minimize their level of frustration in the waiting room.

2. Set Expectations

Unclear wait times have also been shown to contribute to patient frustration, and the same holds true outside of your practice. Thus, wait times are now provided for everything from pizza delivery to standing in line for a theme park ride. Yet some practices still fail to provide an estimated wait time for their patients. Offering a rough estimate lets patients know they have time to open a magazine or load a website on their smart phones instead of anxiously eyeing the clock and wondering what’s taking the doctor so long.

3. Explain the Wait Time and Provide Updates

One reason why long waits are so agitating is because patients feel as though their time isn’t being respected by the practice. Instead of letting patients assume the worst, whenever possible your staff should provide an explanation for the wait and ease patients’ concerns. Patients will often flip from feeling frustrated to forgiving upon learning that the physician was called into an emergency surgery or that the office’s EHR system is temporarily down. After informing patients about the reason for a delay or long wait, provide periodic updates so they don’t feel forgotten.

4. Break Up the Wait

Breaking up the wait by moving patients to different locations in the office will help patients feel like their appointments are starting on time. Have an assistant or nurse begin the appointment at the scheduled start time by bringing the patient into an exam room. Even if a patient has to wait to be seen by the doctor, the delay feels shorter in the exam room than out in the waiting room. Software Advice found that females are more likely than males (40 percent versus 33 percent) to prefer waiting in a private exam room.

5. Ask for Patient Feedback

Everyone likes to feel heard. So in many instances, simply asking patients for feedback after their appointments will minimize dissatisfaction. Strauss & Seidel found that dissatisfied customers whose complaints are taken care of are more likely to recommend the business to others than are satisfied customers. Consider administering a brief survey to gauge patient attitudes about your practice’s wait time. Your patients will appreciate the opportunity to voice any frustrations and that you care enough about their waiting room experience to look for ways to improve it.

Sometimes you cannot avoid long wait times, but taking these five steps to ensure a positive experience for your patients will keep them from negatively affecting your practice’s reputation.