Inform, entertain your patients while they wait

September 1, 2005

Despite your best efforts in managing your schedule, patient waits and delays are inevitable in your dermatology practice. Because you are a service business, patient no-shows, delayed arrivals and your need to maximize revenue based on filling your time, create this predictable situation. You can simply expect patients to wait in an uncomfortable chair, staring at a portrait of you from 1986, with only a tattered magazine to read — or you can dazzle them.

The two keys to managing patient waits are information and entertainment.

Keep them posted

To fulfill patients' needs to be kept informed, instruct your staff to proactively manage this communication. When patients check in, indicate the wait time, always making it at least a few minutes longer than what it actually is.

Research indicates that patients will wait for a physician for 20 minutes without a problem; if the wait will be longer, explain why. Give patients any options that you may have, including returning to the office later that day if the delay is lengthy. Stress to your staff that you don't expect any patient to have to ask about the wait - you expect that the staff will address it first.

Keep your staff informed about your schedule, including any waits or delays you expect. Although many physicians do tell their nurses about the delays, the information often stops there. Make sure your receptionists are also in the loop, as they'll be critical to managing patients' expectations before their treatment.

The waiting game

Although entertainment may seemingly be outside of the scope of what your dermatology practice wants to offer, understand that uncomfortable and unoccupied time feels longer to your patients than does occupied time. Just as you provide staff training on communication, spend some time thinking about keeping your patients occupied - and even entertained.

Try these ideas:

Other options include offering your patients jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, word searches and other lap games. (You can create your own on Web sites such as http://www.teach-nology.com/.)

Or you could provide popular movies, played on a widescreen television; music piped in via satellite radio; personal computers with free Internet access; free long-distance service on available phones (although I'd suggest restricting it to domestic calls only); a great magazine collection; pagers to allow patients to walk to nearby shops if delays are lengthy; and, of course, brochures about the services that you offer.

Keep your patients informed and entertained, and they will find the inevitable waits not only tolerable, but a pleasant experience they'll discuss with their friends.