Wait times down, patient portal use up at practices

Patients aren’t waiting as long to hear the words, “The doctor will see you now.”

In what is good news for both patients and practices, the average wait times for physician visits are down five minutes from last year to an average of only 20 minutes between the waiting area and the exam room. And at hospital-owned practices, the news is even better with an average wait time of 17 minutes, according to a survey by the Medical Group Management Association.

With wait times down, another good piece of news is that patient portal use is up, according to the 2017 MGMA DataDive Practice Operations Survey that looked at practice operations and patient satisfaction.

“While MGMA did not ask specifically what practices were doing to reduce wait time, we know that there is an increased focus in the industry on patient experience. Nearly three quarters of practices we surveyed say they conduct a patient satisfaction survey after every patient visit, and a key influencer of patient experience is wait time," Meghan Wong, assistant director for the MGMA's Data Solutions, told Fierce Healthcare.

Also of note, almost all reporting hospital-owned practices in the report that conduct patient surveys are certified by CAHPS, which suggests that patient experience affects a portion of the practice’s reimbursement, Wong said. She expects practices will continue efforts to reduce patient wait times.

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The survey of more than 1,200 organizations also found the following:

  • When it comes to scheduling appointments, physician-owned practices are able to see patients sooner than hospital-owned practices. Physician-owned practices see established patients up to two days sooner (within three days) versus hospital-owned practices, where patients had to wait five days.
  • Multispecialty practices reported the slowest speed in answer incoming calls (49 seconds), with surgical specialties reporting the quickest time at 13.5 seconds to answer an inbound call.
  • At hospital-owned practices, 30% of patients use the practice portal. Physician-owned practices see less use of their portal (10%-15% of patients). Of those patients at hospital-owned practices, there is 50% more use than in physician-owned practices.
  • Among specialties, primary care practices report the highest percentage for patient portal use (35%).

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  • Patients more frequently use patient portals to access test results (29%), followed by 28% who use the portal for bill payment, communicating with providers and medical staff, downloading or transmitting medical records and scheduling appointments.
  • Nearly three fourths of practices (74%) report conducting patient satisfaction surveys after every patient visit, with only 3% of practices stating they never conduct patient surveys.
  • Billers at practices report posting an average of 132 claims per day, with less than 5% of claims being denied on first submission.