If your primary care practice is like many, your patient wait times could probably use an improvement. Low wait times are crucial to patient satisfaction, and the longer your patients have to wait before they can see their primary care provider, the more disgruntled they become.

While wait times aren’t always in your control, your practice can take a few steps to reduce the time spent waiting while improving overall patient satisfaction. Review the solutions and strategies your healthcare practice can implement to reduce wait times.

Why Patient Wait Times Can Be Hard To Manage

Patients spend an average of an hour and a half waiting to be seen in the hospital emergency room. Other typical patient wait times vary depending on the practice, but studies show that when patients wait 20 minutes or longer to see their doctor, they become frustrated quickly.

Patient wait times aren’t always easy to fix. Bottlenecks in appointment flow can occur for various reasons, such as:

  • Inadequate staffing
  • Overscheduling
  • Higher demand during certain seasons
  • Outdated technology
  • Waiting for no-shows

To optimize wait times, healthcare providers should reduce the amount of time spent on every task within their workflow. And yet, many practices use inefficient administrative processes that take up more time and slow down patient flow.

For example, many family medicine practices require patients to update their health information at every visit, taking up time. Some use slow or legacy technology that cannot move between tasks quickly, contributing to wait time.

The Consequences of Prolonged Patient Wait Times

Long wait times aren’t just mildly frustrating for patients. They can significantly impact your practice’s performance. The two main consequences of prolonged wait times are as follows:

Impact on Patient Satisfaction

Long waits can have drastic effects on patient satisfaction scores across healthcare organizations. Consider these statistics:

  • As many as 30% of patients have left a doctor’s appointment in response to long wait times
  • 63% of patients would switch doctors if they had to consistently wait too long to get into the exam room
  • As many as 84% of people believe wait time is either “somewhat important” or “very important” to the overall patient experience

Even if every other aspect of a patient appointment is positive, a long wait will leave a sour taste in patients’ mouths, skewing their perception of your practice and hurting their overall satisfaction.

Operational Efficiency and Revenue

An extended wait time affects the patient experience and can negatively impact your practice’s operational efficiency and revenue. Long waits likely mean your practice isn’t scheduling patients as efficiently as it could be.

Many practices with long waiting times mistakenly believe they’re scheduling too many patients in one day. In reality, they must optimize their procedures to reduce downtime. However, by lowering the number of appointments, they’re reducing their operational efficiency and revenue.

Eliminating the bottlenecks that cause long wait times can improve your practice’s overall efficiency. You may learn that you can fit more patients into your day than you currently see.

Strategies To Reduce Patient Wait Times

Patient wait times may feel out of your control. You and your front office staff may know that your practice consistently runs behind schedule and that patients often must wait longer than anticipated to see their physician, but you may be unsure how to reduce the time patients spend in the waiting room.

The first step is pinpointing the source or cause of your high wait time. For example, causes may include:

  • Your practice is understaffed but is still operating at full efficiency.
  • The average patient appointment takes longer than the time you are allotting.
  • Your staff does not have time to properly integrate a new patient base into the existing patient load.
  • Your clinic’s staff members are not operating as efficiently as possible, creating lag time throughout the day.

Discovering which elements are contributing to your wait time can help you implement process improvement steps to minimize the impact of those factors.

However, not every cause of long waits is easily solvable. While your office may be understaffed, you don’t want to shorten the appointment time or reduce the quality of the visit.

Thankfully, there are a few other strategies any healthcare system can use to improve waiting time.

Online Appointment Scheduling and Management

Scheduling patient appointments strategically can help reduce or eliminate wait times. Your family medicine or primary care practice can adopt these scheduling strategies to improve patient flow:

  • Conduct a scheduling audit to find gaps and bottlenecks in the schedule and correct them.
  • Incentivize patients to show up on time by charging a late fee for those who are more than 15-30 minutes late to an appointment.
  • Implement online scheduling to streamline and enhance the scheduling process.

Online appointment scheduling boasts many benefits for healthcare organizations, including reducing wait time. One benefit is that your patient base can schedule their appointments rather than needing to call your practice. This frees up time for your front desk staff and allows them to focus on the patients already in the waiting room.

With online appointment scheduling, you can enhance communication with patients, informing them of delays. If your practice is running significantly behind, you can let patients know before they come, allowing them to stay at home or work a bit longer rather than having to sit in the waiting room for an extended period.

If you operate an urgent care or other alternative care site that allows walk-ins, you can use online scheduling to alert patients to your current wait time. Patients will know what wait time to expect when they arrive at your specialty care practice, allowing them to manage their frustration.

Staff Training and Roles

Your healthcare practice should also take measures to improve staff efficiency. Your office staff and primary care physicians may not be operating at the highest efficiency level simply because they do not realize where bottlenecks occur or are unaware of more efficient processes.

Healthcare practices tend to have high turnover, which often means the presence of new staff members. Without the proper training, new physicians and medical providers may unknowingly create delays due to inefficiency.

Take the time to adequately train all staff members on the most efficient ways to complete their tasks. Conduct a systematic review of staff processes periodically to identify unnecessary delays that can be resolved.

Additionally, ensure that all staff members and physicians have clear, defined roles. For example, you may assign one staff member to answer phone calls and another to check in patients. With this structure, you can eliminate the delays that occur when staff members must consistently figure out who is doing what.

The Role of Communication Platforms in Reducing Wait Times

If your practice isn’t using a communication platform to connect with patients, now is a great time to consider incorporating one. If your practice does use a communication platform, consider whether it provides the necessary benefits to streamline operations and reduce patient wait times.

A patient communication platform is a program that lets you communicate with your patient base through various methods, such as text, email, and phone calls, with greater efficiency and convenience.

With the right patient communication platform, your practice can save time on administrative tasks, reducing delays. But you can also improve patient experience by alerting your patient base when experiencing delays.

Most patients feel frustrated by an extended wait time because it signals a lack of communication between physician and patient. However, through a communication platform, you can maintain open lines of communication with your patient base, improving the quality of your patient care and enhancing the patient experience.

Features That Make a Difference

Patient communication platforms may include a wide range of features. Below are a few vital ones to look for in these platforms to reduce wait times:

  • Automatic appointment reminders: Appointment reminders help decrease no-shows. Looking for a platform with automatic reminders can help your staff save time and focus more attention on those who are currently in the building.
  • Text messaging: Platforms with easy-to-use texting tools can improve communication access, allowing your patient base to ask questions quickly, receive updates about wait times, and feel more connected to their physicians.

Weave optimizes both of these essential features, improving the quality and efficiency of communication with your patient base.

Final Thoughts

Reducing patient wait times is important to improve satisfaction and operational success within your healthcare organization. While it’s a goal that’s easier said than done, the solutions and strategies above are accessible and implementable.

Incorporating these strategies into your practice can make a significant difference in wait time and, by extension, patient access to care and health outcomes. With Weave, communicating with patients — and streamlining a range of other operational strategies — has never been easier.

Request your free Weave demo today to learn how this platform can help your primary care practice.

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