“Thank You For Your Patience!” — How To Improve Patient Wait Times: 5 Effective Methods

Oct 18, 2023 | Blog, Front Desk, Healthcare

A 2022 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times and Medicare and Medicaid Acceptance Rates found that it takes an average of 26.0 days to schedule a new physician appointment in the United States. When the patients arrive at the clinic for their scheduled appointment, they have to wait another 18 minutes on average before the doctor sees them, according to a 2018 annual report on patient wait time.

The same report also revealed that 30% of patients walked out of their appointments due to long wait times. This means that reducing patient wait times is crucial to maintaining patient retention and revenue.

To help you learn how to improve patient wait times in your clinics, here are 5 effective methods you should try implementing.

How To Improve Patient Wait Times In 5 Ways

1. Implement efficient scheduling protocols

The way that you schedule patient appointments has an impact on patient wait times.

For instance, when your clinic has a day fully booked with patient appointments, here are a few things you should consider:

  • Your providers may get overwhelmed with the heavy workload. This can result in stress, burnout, and turnover in the long run.
  • Some appointments will be delayed. Some providers may need more time on prior appointments, though this will lead to other patients becoming frustrated.
  • Patients may leave the clinic. They want to receive treatment as soon as they arrive at the waiting room. Failing to meet that expectation will cause them to leave upset.

Efficient scheduling protocols are crucial to minimize wait times and patient frustration while allowing providers to work their best.

Here are some sample booking strategies you should try:

  • Buffer times – Schedule appointments with 15-30 minute gaps in between them to accommodate potential delays and allow providers to prepare for their next patient
  • Group appointments – Cluster similar appointments on the same days so that your providers can seamlessly work on patients with identical conditions
  • Double-booking – Consider scheduling two patients on the same time slot with the same provider (only do this with patients with extremely identical cases and at the same stage of treatment, and even then, only occasionally)

2. Train front desk staff on front desk processes

Receptionists and other front office staff play a vital role in facilitating check-in and other processes at the front desk. Properly training them ensures that your patients fill out paperwork and submit documents in an efficient manner.

Consider the following factors when training your staff:

  • Patient intake forms – Ensure that they routinely provide the correct forms for patients to fill out
  • Knowledge of services – Familiarize them with general knowledge of your clinic services so that they can answer patient inquiries on their own
  • Future scheduling – Hone their memory and problem-solving skills so that they can always identify the best appointment time for both patient and provider

3. Send appointment reminders regularly

Appointment reminders are effective not only in reducing cancellations and no-shows but also in ensuring that patients arrive on time. It is vital to remind patients about their appointment schedules so that they can go to your clinic on time.

Otherwise, one of two scenarios may take place:

  1. They arrive too early. This leads to longer waiting times than what they should be experiencing.
  2. They arrive late. This results in either other appointments being delayed to accommodate them or their own appointment being canceled. The former can result in the frustration of other patients, while the latter may have the patient no longer rescheduling to another date.

Sending appointment reminders can minimize the likelihood of both scenarios occurring.

Consider these best practices with appointment reminders:

  • Send more than one reminder before the appointment. This gives the patient ample heads-up to plan for the appointment. For example, if a patient’s appointment is a month away, you can send a reminder one week prior, another one three days prior, then one last reminder 24 hours before the appointment.
  • Remind the patient in both text and email. This ensures that the patient will be able to see your reminder.
  • Automate the sending of patient reminders. As soon as the appointment has been scheduled, have your front desk staff schedule the reminders. It allows your front desk staff to continue working on other tasks while avoiding the risk of forgetting to send reminders to the patients.
  • Consider giving the patient a phone call 24 hours before the appointment. Some patients may miss out on reading your text reminders. Calling them 24 hours before the appointment increases the likelihood of you successfully reminding them.

4. Schedule patients based on provider workload

Appointment length has a significant impact on wait times. Long appointment times can lead to delays in future appointments, resulting in queued patients waiting longer. In addition, some providers work at different paces from others to ensure the quality of their services.

In any case, it’s ideal to schedule the appointments based on the provider’s workload. There are two ways you can do this:

  1. Schedule appointments with buffer times in between. This minimizes pressure on the provider and allows them to treat their patients, update medical histories, and perform other tasks properly.
  2. Suggest another provider of the same expertise to the patient. This evenly distributes the workload and may even allow the patient to receive treatment much sooner.

5. Integrate newer technologies

Evaluate your current equipment based on these metrics:

  • Efficiency – Is it fast enough to keep up with heavy patient volume, or does it cause bottlenecks?
  • Convenience – Does it make work easier for your staff, or is it causing stress and burnout?
  • Reliability – Does your equipment run seamlessly at all times, or does it lag when the going gets tough?

Some healthcare clinics still utilize pen-and-paper and other equipment to enable their front desk processes. However, general patient expectations and standards are increasing alongside technological advancements. This means that, in order for your practice to achieve a positive patient experience, you need to upgrade your equipment.

Here are some sample considerations you should take into account when planning equipment upgrades:

  • Electronic medical record (EMR) system – It should allow your staff to seamlessly update patient information
  • Check-in – Patients should be able to register and schedule appointments conveniently. Live-streaming receptionist kiosk solutions like WelcomeWare enable a convenient front desk system that streamlines check-in while retaining the human touch
  • Computers, phone systems, and other facilities – They must be fast and reliable to use even during heavy workloads

If you’re already using up-to-date technology, you need to ensure that it’s maintained properly for long-term reliability. Also, it’s still worth it to keep abreast with the new technologies that can help further enhance your front desk workflow.

Shorter Patient Wait Times Lead To Greater Patient Satisfaction

Patients want to receive treatment as soon as they arrive at the clinic. Thus, knowing how to improve wait times in your clinics is vital to achieving optimal patient satisfaction.

Unavailable front desk staff is one of the most common issues that can lead to long wait times. To ensure that your patient intake process is seamless and convenient, consider using live virtual receptionists with WelcomeWare to empower your front desk.

Make your clinic worth the wait

Enrich the patient experience with WelcomeWare

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