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Three Ways Your Clinic Can Reduce Perceived Wait Time

I'm the owner and founder of PIT Designs. I love creating digital presence and creative digital solutions for our clients.

Posted 6 months ago on April 25th, 2021. Last modified on September 5th, 2021

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Nothing is more irritating than turning up for a doctor’s appointment on time only to be hit with wait time. Despite the best efforts, clinics can’t seem to shake the concept of wait time. In other words it is hard to not have frustrated patients. Here are three simple tips you can use to reduce perceived wait time.

What is wait time?

Before we get into how’s of eliminating wait time, perhaps it would help to find out what it is or what the role of wait time is in a clinical setting. Wait time refers to the number of minutes’ patients go through before a qualified medical professional attends to them.

According to a 2018 Vitals study, the average wait time in the US is 18 minutes 13 seconds. What’s more, that number can balloon to 49 minutes, as seen in the District of Columbia. It's easy to understand why patients grow frustrated.

What is perceived wait time?

The other side of the coin is perceived wait time which refers to the feelings on how much time has gone by. That is, patients might feel they waited a long time even though they didn’t, and the reverse is true.

But why are patient’s perceived times different from actual time? According to David Maister in The Psychology of Waiting Lines, that’s because wait times have a lot of unoccupied time. Not to mention, most doctors offices have patients sitting in silence. The activity of this period of silence is minimal which makes the wait feel longer. As you probably guessed, that leads to bored patients, and making time seems to move slower for them.

With this insight, the trick lies in finding ways to reduce boredom, thereby reducing perceived wait times.

How do you use wait time to your advantage?

1. Digital signage

You can utilize a display screen for informational purposes and add graphics, or videos. As has been established, digital signage can reduce perceived wait time by as much as 33%. Individuals who are waiting with less-serious problems will most likely not perceive as long a wait time as those with more serious ailments. This is due to the fact that being in discomfort can make you more distractible and less likely to engage with content.

Digital signage works because:

  • It reduces stress and anxiety: you can control the information by displaying content that distracts patients from the business that brought them to your clinic
  • Offers targeted information: you know your patients, so you’re likely to show content they can relate to
  • Shares relevant information: you can use it to display valuable information to the patients such as public announcements, their estimated wait times, the priority order of their issue, social feeds, directions to service points, and health warnings

Digital signage works because it distracts your patients and keeps them preoccupied with exciting content. Additionally, it can help promote your clinic as ads on display can boost impulse purchases and secondary sales.

2. Communication

One of the best ways of improving patients’ wait time is through improved communication. It would help if you tried to inform patients of any delays as soon as they occur. If you anticipate a significant delay, how about calling to notify patients who have not arrived at the clinic?

As a recent study found out, patients are willing to wait if you proactively inform them of expected delays. Moreover, you can improve their wait time experience by apologizing for the delays. These are suggested best practices to use if you can't shorten the wait time.

Another way of going about it is introducing a ‘traffic cop’, a staff member experienced in patient workflow. The person will inspect and highlight any potential bottlenecks in your sessions. A physician assistant or a registered nurse would be a great option. In other words, the patient will feel important as they are dealing with a member of the medical staff. An added bonus would be if the individual is good at tech and can keep an eye on actual proceedings and inform you of impending slowdowns.

One thing to keep in mind is courtesy, that is, thank the patients for persevering through the delays.

3. Work efficiently

With greater efficiency comes shorter wait times. Additionally, working efficiently goes hand in hand with planning. As they say, nothing beats some good old planning; failure to plan is planning to fail. You can reduce wait times significantly if your clinic is prepared in advance.

That involves:

  • Checking your patient history to ensure you allocate enough time for patient procedures and setting some buffer times to boot
  • Using technology to monitor your patient flow. The technology will not only identify bottlenecks, it can help pinpoint problem areas and inform the workflow restructuring process
  • Encourage the usage of your patient portal to fill in patient paperwork, medications, and medical history before the patients arrive at the clinic
  • Require staff to complete paperwork before the patients see their physician

As a hot tip, use optimal slots for your patients that require high maintenance. As they need more care than regular patients, book them just before lunch or at the end of the day. That will provide a buffer so if they extend their allotted time, they will not affect the workflow.

It is important to note that urgent care wait times and emergency room wait times differ from those of regular clinics as patients usually schedule an appointment at clinics. Irrespective of the type of medical facility, digital signage can definitely improve perceived wait time which should allow for better patient satisfaction.

To conclude, clinic wait times can be such a pain, especially if you arrived on time. On average, Americans have to wait about 18 minutes before they can consult their physician.

However, you can reduce their perceived wait times by improving communication, such as relaying information about delays. Further, you can install digital signage to distract or preoccupy them. Lastly, work efficiently, for example, filing paperwork before patients arrive at the clinic.

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