By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
The pandemic fast-tracked the growing notion of healthcare consumerism, spurring several changes in the healthcare industry. These changes include modernizing business processes and focusing on improvements that positively impact patient wait times and appointment times.
It is well-established that longer patient wait times negatively impact patient satisfaction, specifically regarding patient confidence (in the provider) and perceived quality of care.
To further complicate matters, as healthcare consumers continue to prioritize patient experience, physicians are leaving private practices for hospitals and larger medical groups at an alarming rate. According to Avalere Health, nearly three in four doctors work for a hospital, health system, or corporate entity today. In other words, only 26.1% of physicians remain in private practice.
While this shift provides stability for physicians, it’s left many patients biding their time in larger, busier reception areas or looking for alternatives. (Note: please don’t call your reception area a “waiting room.” Can you think of any other industry besides healthcare that does that?)
What changes has your business implemented to meet your healthcare consumers’ changing needs and expectations—and are they enough?
Attitudes toward patient wait times have changed
If you’re not modernizing your business to meet today’s healthcare consumers’ changing needs and expectations, you’re already losing revenue.
Consumerism has shifted the healthcare paradigm from provider-driven to patient-driven healthcare decisions and patient experience. As a result of these changes, more patients expect seamless digital interactions and a healthcare experience as innovative and advanced as other service sectors.
This retail mindset means patients aren’t willing to put up with inefficiencies like long patient wait times at the doctor’s office. Instead, they expect to wait 30 minutes or less for scheduled appointments, 45 minutes or less for unplanned visits, and 20 minutes or less for virtual care. (And, I feel like those figures are generous.)
Reasons for shifting patient attitudes
As we all know, healthcare consumers have never enjoyed long patient wait times in the office, but they accepted it because there weren’t many alternatives. While some offices prioritize the patient experience, many hospitals and larger medical groups struggle with long wait times and delayed appointments.
With recent advancements in technology and an explosion of non-urgent care options (e.g., telemedicine, minute clinics, and other walk-in services), healthcare consumers are more empowered than ever before to find healthcare organizations that meet (or exceed) their expectations—and to help prevent others from making the same mistake.
Patient reviews have a greater reach than ever before
More consumers are reading online reviews than ever before. Reputation, the global leader in Reputation Experience Management (RXM), surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. consumers and discovered that over 70% read patient reviews when researching potential new healthcare locations or providers.
What’s more, female consumers are even more interested in consumer feedback, with almost 80% of women saying they read patient reviews before considering a new doctor.
But that’s not all. Today’s healthcare consumers weigh the general sentiment of online reviews against the volume each organization has. 80% of survey respondents require five or more positive reviews before deeming a provider trustworthy.
It’s important to note that these reviews aren’t limited to primary care physicians. Patients who receive a referral from another doctor are just as likely to conduct their own online research, and if they don’t like what they see, they may seek out a second option.
Your competition is disrupting the marketplace
Highly recognizable brand names like CVS MinuteClinics, Walmart Care Clinics, Target Clinics, Walgreens Healthcare Clinics, and new companies like Optum Health, Luna Physical Therapy, Roman, and HIMS are disrupting the status quo. These, in addition to innovative outpatient services (e.g., urgent care centers and Telehealth), are giving healthcare consumers what they want—often before they even know they want it.
According to survey data released from Press Ganey, a healthcare experience leader, 66% of 1,000 respondents believed brands like these might pose a significant threat to older hospitals and provider institutions that aren’t modernizing their businesses.
If you want to keep patients in your hospital or medical group, you have to create an experience of care that keeps them coming back and competitive with these modern healthcare environments.
Losing a patient is expensive
According to Vitals, 30% of patients have simply left a doctor’s office because they were dissatisfied with the wait time. In some cases, the cost of acquiring a new patient can be a couple of hundred dollars. Worse, the opportunity cost of the lifetime economic value of the patient to your business will almost always be far greater.
What can you do to reduce patient wait times and retain (or improve) patient volumes across your organization?
If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend conducting a thorough audit of your systems and processes. Determine how to leverage existing and emerging technologies to make on-time appointments a priority. Build your processes around patients (not the other way around), streamline appointment workflows, and ensure everyone is in and out in as little time as possible.
14 Ways to Reduce Patient Wait Times
Here are 14 ways to reduce patient wait times, improve patient satisfaction, enhance the patient experience, and reduce revenue loss.
1. Offer digital check-in services that allow patients to submit medical forms before their appointment.
2. Offer hassle-free online appointment scheduling and rescheduling.
3. Integrate virtual care services like telehealth/telemedicine.
4. Stay on schedule by leveraging physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) for routine or non-urgent visits.
5. Develop better new patient lead workflows to improve efficiencies and productivity.
6. Conduct patient surveys.
7. Send patient appointment reminders to lower your risk of no-shows (which can keep everyone waiting unnecessarily).
8. Develop and publish a policy for cancellations, no-shows, and late arrivals.
a. For example, this policy may outline fees for same-day appointment cancellations, no-shows, late arrivals, and late-notice rescheduling.
9. Optimize access management practices to automate appointment re-filling.
a. For example, if you have a cancellation or reschedule, call patients scheduled for a later date and offer them an earlier appointment. This keeps your queue filled, reduces revenue loss, and provides earlier appointments for other patients.
10. Identify and resolve bottlenecks quickly.
11. Streamline internal processes and communications.
12. Use a mobile or virtual queue to keep patients out of the reception area.
13. Provide a warm, welcoming space for waiting. While you can’t eliminate patient wait times completely, you can make the experience as comfortable as possible. Consider offering complimentary and secure wi-fi services, educational materials (either printed or onscreen), and plenty of comfortable seating. You may also consider moving patients from the reception area into available exam rooms as soon as they become available to indicate forward momentum.
14. And most importantly, listen to your patients and their needs. Even if you fall behind in your schedule, your patients will appreciate transparency and your willingness to fix the issues over time. And if you really want to hold your organization accountable for delays, offer patients a gift card to nearby coffee or pastry shops as a way of saying thanks for their patience.
Reducing patient wait times is a gateway to improving patient satisfaction across your entire organization, which in turn supports patient retention, increased patient volume, and revenue over time.