Patients' wait times made more pleasant by creative measures

November 1, 2010

Reducing patients' time to wait is certainly a noble goal and one that you should always strive to achieve. Eliminating wait time, however, is impossible for most dermatology practices. Steps you take to improve the quality of waiting time can do more than reduce frustration; they may turn the experience into a positive impression for patients.

Key Points

You're providing a service, not a product, and delivering that service may consume 30 minutes for one patient and two minutes for the next. Inevitably, there will be some wait time for patients. Unfortunately, the longer patients perceive that they've waited, the more they expect from you.

Instead of throwing up your hands and saying, "It is what it is," take action to improve the quality of your patients' wait. Steps you take to improve the quality of waiting time can do more than reduce frustration; they may turn the experience into a positive impression for patients.

First and foremost, keep patients informed. Research shows that the average wait time is 20 minutes in a dermatology practice. This is from arrival to being escorted to the clinical area. Exceed 30 minutes and the likely result is an upset patient - unless you've set expectations appropriately.

Intervention at 20 minutes is a great rule of thumb; once the patient has been waiting 20 minutes, communicate with him or her about the wait. Start that conversation with an apology. It's helpful if you also offer to reschedule, although that may not always be an option from a clinical perspective. If the wait time is significant (an hour or more, for example), the dermatologist's nurse or medical assistant should come out to speak with patients about the delay. Meanwhile, the reception staff should start placing telephone calls to patients scheduled for the remainder of the session. These patients can be provided with new arrival times or they can be rescheduled. Keep gift cards at the front office for free coffee or coffee and a bagel at an on-site or nearby café. Offer the cards to patients when the wait time becomes excessive.

Keeping a pulse on wait time is an important function of your receptionists. Use the practice management system's patient arrival function to keep track of the time between each patient's arrival and when they are escorted to the clinical area. If there is no automatic method of tracking, use small, inexpensive timers. Clip or attach them magnetically to each patient's clipboard or to a whiteboard that lists patients by last name (for internal use only). Monitor wait times to determine when intervention is needed.