The average time patients spend waiting to see a health provider is 22 minutes, and some waits stretch for hours, according to a 2009 report by Press Ganey Associates, a healthcare consulting firm that surveyed 2.4 million patients at more than 10,000 locations. Orthopedists have the longest waits, at 29 minutes; dermatologists the shortest, at 20.
And with each five minutes of waiting time, patient satisfaction sank significantly, the survey revealed.
Despite the difficulty of predicting patient needs and the pressure on physicians to try to squeeze in as many appointments as possible, there are several strategies practices can employ to reduce patient wait time and frustration, notes the Wall Street Journal:
- Implement open-access scheduling. The American Academy of Family Physicians and other primary-care groups urge practices to leave as much as 70 percent of their schedules open for same-day appointments. Patients with immediate concerns are more likely to show up on time and stick to the point, proponents say.
- Be prepared. Allow patients to complete registration forms, medication lists and other paperwork in advance, via computer or mail. Also have a receptionist or nurse make sure that all necessary test results and records have been received before the patient arrives.
- Huddle up. By reviewing the upcoming patient list several times a day, doctors and other staffers can anticipate and plan around some delays.
- Use physician extenders. "In my office, everyone has a flu shot before I even get in the room," says Melissa Gerdes, a family physician in Whitehouse, Texas, who was part of a TransforMED pilot project.
- Keep patients informed and give the option to reschedule. Some practices now use automated programs to notify patients when they're behind schedule, even before patients get to the office. One web-based tool, MedWaitTime, lets patients check how late the doctor is running, much like airline passengers can get a flight-update.