Patient Waiting Times: What is Reasonable at Your Medical Practice?

March 21, 2013

Patients are still complaining about wait times being too long. How does your practice measure up?

Not to beat a dead horse here, but can you guess what the number one complaint in medical offices still is?  The wait!  You may be thinking, “oh well, what does she know, you go to the doctor, you wait…”  That is the attitude that will leave your clinic empty while more progressive clinics handle their patients on time (or close to it) and leave them more satisfied and happy.  And you will find that if you are more respectful of your patient’s time, they will be more respectful of yours.

What do you think a reasonable “wait” is? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Twenty minutes? You should be aiming for the fewer-than-10-minute mark, as far as wait in the waiting room, and then less than 20 minutes from the time the patient is placed in the exam room until they see the doctor/practitioner (not the nurse/tech). 

Personally anywhere BUT a doctor’s office, my motto is “if you are not 15 minutes early, you are late.” It has taken some time and experience as a patient, nurse, manager, and consultant to realize that it is important to respect people’s (most especially your customer’s) time no matter what.

First you must acknowledge you have a problem. And this problem could be anything from wasting time between patients, to showing up late, to spending too much time chatting with patients. Whatever your “time waster” is, you basically have two choices: Stop it OR schedule your patients appropriately around it.

Over the years, especially in family practice/primary care, the way to earn more was to see more patients. This and the shortage of primary-care practitioners (and some other factors) helped contribute to clinics being stacked full and waits in waiting rooms being longer. Now there are tons of revenue options that help practitioners provide more complete care in their office, and don’t necessarily require stacking patients in quick, five-minute slots and making them wait for hours on end. And the primary-care provider pool is growing, giving patients more options, to find clinics that are glad they are there, and don’t treat them like a number.

In the words of the wonderful Maya Angelou, “when you know better you do better.” Now you do, how are you going to start reducing the wait for your most important asset? Your patients.