Any patient can tell that several things can determine whether he or she is happy with a visit to their doctor’s office. Many factors play a role in patient satisfaction, including the level of care provided by the physician, staff friendliness, facility cleanliness, speediness of answering telephone calls, and wait times. Wait time (time spent in both the waiting room and exam room before seen by a doctor) in particular is frequently cited as the single most important factor in determining patient satisfaction. In fact, a national survey found that 40% of the variance in patient satisfaction can be explained by the amount of time a patient waits to see their doctor.
Some have argued and even research has shown that the negative effect of long waiting time “may be so pervasive that good physician care cannot make up for it.” (Probst 1997). In other words, a patient could immediately bond with staff, meaningfully connect with their physician in the first minute of a visit, and find the facility visually appealing (essentially, do everything right) and still have a patient walk away dissatisfied if they were significantly delayed in seeing their physician. There is no magic number for an outpatient office visit but I understand that there is a dramatic drop-off in patient satisfaction when wait times reach 30 to 40 minutes.
When you mention “wait time”, most people can’t help but think about the emergency room. (I mean who honestly hasn’t had a terrible night of waiting for what seemed like forever to see a doctor in an ER). According to a 2009 research study by Press Ganey, the average time spent in the ED is four hours and seven minutes. Some states are better than others. Iowa is at an average of 175 minutes of wait time. Conversely, Utah had an average of 847 minutes (about 8 hours). For our state, Georgia ranks in the middle (32nd) at 249 minutes, according to Press Ganey.
It is inevitable there will be delays when seeing your doctor, particularly when in an ER. For example, a doctor may be called in for an emergency or she have a number of high acuity patients that need more time to diagnosis than initially scheduled. This doesn’t mean that we should throw our hands up in the air and declare that the rest of the day’s patients will walk away irate when 30+ minute delays. Two things in particular can lessen the blow of a major appointment delay:
As competition intensifies in the outpatient market, patient satisfaction is becoming an increasingly critical factor for sustaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Correspondingly, physician offices and their staff would be wise to focus their energies on decreasing wait times before anything else. While time management may not be traditionally thought of as that important by a doctor or her staff, don’t be fooled. Your patients will thank you for it and reward you with another visit.