Every medical office has a bad day now and then —patients are late, appointments run long, you get a lot of drop-ins—and before you know it, your patients are waiting an hour or more to see you. Not surprisingly, it is these patients who report the highest levels of dissatisfaction with their medical care providers. But how can you expect the unexpected and in turn get happier patients? Try these waiting room tips and tricks.
It’s Not About the Time—It’s the Perception That Counts
While you certainly want to minimize wait times by allowing enough time for appointments and scheduling catch-up blocks into your day, there is no way to completely eliminate some amount of waiting for an appointment. However, it turns out that patient satisfaction is not based on shorter wait times. Instead, overall satisfaction is more closely tied to how comfortable and occupied patients are while they are waiting. When a patient’s physical and cognitive needs are met, they are more likely to be happy—even when they have to wait beyond their appointment time. Ways to meet these needs include:
- Giving an approximate wait time. When you know you are behind schedule, let the patient know how long he or she will have to wait at check in. It is often the unknown that upsets patients the most.
- Providing comfortable seating. Chairs that are clean and arranged in a variety of layouts—some for patients who are alone and others for pairs or groups waiting together—can make a big difference.
- Controlling the environment. Make sure the temperature is comfortable for your patients.
- Offering water, coffee, and light snacks. This can be self-serve, but allowing patients to satisfy their hunger or thirst will buy you more of their patience.
- Providing current magazines, free Wi-Fi, and television programming. Invest in subscriptions to a wide variety of magazines to help keep your patients entertained. Free Wi-Fi and a television can also help patients pass the time.
- Checking on patients and updating wait times. Don’t abandon your patients. The receptionist should circulate through the waiting room every 15 minutes to provide patients with wait-time updates and make sure they are comfortable.
Scheduling regular cleaning and maintenance of your waiting area, including furniture and toys, will help keep the atmosphere welcoming and pleasant.
Applying These Tips to Your Practice
Many of these tips will cost you very little to implement and they will pay you back tenfold. If your patients are comfortable in your waiting area, they will be more likely to come back—even if you were running behind schedule.