Posted on June 22, 2017

Long patient wait times are a big impediment to doctor/patient trust. In an era of consolidation, litigation, regulation, and an increasingly skeptical populace, that’s a dangerous situation indeed.

Paradoxically, some of the biggest ways we make our patients angry are invisible to us. What seems like an integral part of our practice may actually be a time-wasting mistake that we make over and over again out of habit.

Luckily, there are some very clear ways to cut patient wait times. Task separation, practice scheduling apps, and techniques for harnessing employee ideas are just a few methods that can achieve real improvements in waiting. That ultimately means a more efficient practice and a happier, more loyal patient clientele.

1. Collect Patient Info in Advance

It may seem convenient to collect patient info at the time of the visit, but that’s an illusion. It actually clogs up a practice and creates extra waiting because some patients take longer to fill forms than others. You’ll create massive efficiencies by prepping paperwork for tomorrow’s patient visits at the end of today.

2. Separate Phone Work from Check-Ins

The most efficient medical practices lower patient wait times by separating different duties. One team member can check patients in, while another answers phones, handles scheduling, and reaches out to patients to collect info for tomorrow’s appointments. This prevents a backlog of waiting patients created by too many check-ins and not enough completed prep.

3. Slash Phone Time with Secure Messaging

A personal call makes a nice appointment reminder, but many patients actually prefer texts. A phone call at a busy moment can be forgotten, whereas a text message provides a written record. Text reminders cut down on wait times by decreasing phone time. They also let doctors answer patient questions outside of clinical visits, which means less exam room chatter and ultimately less wait time in the practice.

4. Inject Slack in the Schedule

A crammed schedule is a recipe for long patient wait times. Overbooking might look like a good way to prop up the bottom line, but in reality it creates a too-busy, stressed practice with plenty of waiting and angry patients. Small, built-in blocks of buffer time will almost never go to waste, and create a more efficient, smoothly-operating practice with ultimately higher revenue.

5. Communicate with Patients About Delays

Reaching out to patients during delays can drastically reduce waiting room times. If you’re running significantly late, tell patients before they get to the practice. They’ll appreciate the tip, and most will use the time to their advantage. The worst response is to make a patient sit for two hours, then act like nothing’s wrong.

6. Use a Patient Portal

Encouraging clients to use patient portals can lower wait times appreciably. Patients can fill out their own paperwork, access updates, and submit insurance information from home or with mobile apps. That’s means they’re ready when the doctor is, which creates a chain of faster service all day long.

7. Use a Queue App

It a Jetson’s-like advance, physicians can now offer queueing apps that let patients see their position in line at a glance, along with their expected wait time. That lets patients exit the practice when possible, to catch up on work or run errands. This empties the waiting room, exchanging it for a much more efficient virtual waiting room.

8. Enforce a Policy for Late Arrivals

Patients who show up late don’t just damage a practice’s finances. They also throw off the workflow, making all other patients wait for the rest of the day. Get your patients to respect everyone’s time by implementing a clear, known policy to reschedule after a set late arrival time.

9. Take a Look at Your Process

Examine your practice (and have team members examine it) to identify needless inefficiencies. We’re very busy during the day. We may not notice when certain things that feel necessary are actually just time-wasters in disguise. Periodically checking the steps in our process and asking if there’s a simpler way can speed things up and reduce patient wait times.

10. Watch Toast Kaizen

There’s a world-changing, 15-minute video that shows a man making toast in 5 minutes. By removing stumbling blocks, he cuts that time to just 3 minutes. The simple but award-winning demonstration has empowered hundreds of thousands of employees to make things better for themselves and their customers across dozens of industries. It’s all but guaranteed to give your team dozens of ideas to cut wait times for patients.

11. Implement a Pull System

We can reduce patient wait times by speeding up what we do in the back of the house. Pull systems are a very effective way to do that. Imagine that in your supply closet you have two plastic bins of gauze pads. When one is empty, it’s placed upside-down as a signal to order more. Spread across every item in the practice, this decimates time spent on inventory and ordering, and quickens the entire practice, including the patient experience.

12. Start Offering Telemedicine

Cut down on patient wait times and office visits by engaging in virtual treatment. Telemedicine frees the physician’s time and pares down the patient waiting room population by letting doctors handle less critical visits remotely. It can also cut the time for the average office visit by 50%.

13. Create Special Patient Protocols

For major illness categories like abdominal pain, chest pain, or head injuries, create special patient protocols. These bundle nursing procedures, physician’s orders, and suggested lab tests and other tools. Providers can then follow a predetermined treatment path for patients who fit certain descriptions. That saves significant time and decreases patient waiting.

14. Use a Survey to Find Slow Spots

Sometimes it’s hard to see the speed bumps in a practice from the back of the house. Put yourself in your patients’ shoes by handing out a short survey to track patient wait times in the front office and exam room.

15. Consider Opting out of Medicare

Nearly 18,000 doctors have opted out of insurance and Medicare, with more joining their ranks all the time. Doctors who’ve made the switch report higher earnings, less hassle, happier patients, and above all a much more efficient practice. The reduction in red tape, coding, claims, and paperwork alone is enough to cut patient wait times dramatically.

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