Waiting for Treatment: How to Optimize Your Patient’s Wait Time Experience

March 22, 2017Perry Kuklin

Nobody ever likes to wait. But when you're sick, hurt, or otherwise suffering, the wait becomes far less tolerable. For front-end staff at hospitals, clinics, and doctors' offices this presents one of the toughest challenges of all.

Caring staff members know patients don’t want to wait, and they have to send them to the waiting room day in and out. Intake staff often struggle to find ways to balance a full patient load and a high quality of care, while also bearing in mind the overall patient experience (which includes the dreaded wait time).

With this complex puzzle there is no easy answer. However there are proven ways to improve the waiting experience, and we believe the right answer has two primary components:

1.   A precise picture of the patient’s wait-time experience

You have to know where things stand. Or as the well-known business management thinker, Peter Drucker, famously remarked, "you can't manage what you can't measure."
When you have a clear picture of what is happening for patients (and staff), you have a much easier time directing resources where they can make the biggest difference. Metrics you can track and then translate into operational improvements include arrival rates, patient wait times, staff response time, service rates, service allocation, and high volume periods.

These things can be measured with queue analytics systems that are affordable and easily installed, using data capture technologies that protect patient privacy. When you add technology solutions as key support tools to keep you informed, then you’re ready to move forward with more clarity to make a bigger impact for patients, for staff, and for the facility/office. Knowledge is power. Without it, the wait will likely remain intolerable. With it you can take far better care of everyone involved.

2. Technology to optimize the patient’s experience

Equipped with a clear, precise picture of the patient experience, you are well positioned to take the next steps. Integrating the right technology solutions can help optimize wait times (both real and perceived) and improve the efficiency and productivity of care provided. Some of the solutions available today include transforming a traditional waiting queue into a virtual one, matching patients directly with specific healthcare providers, and letting patients know actual wait times.

Virtual Queue

Virtual queuing systems can allow patients to pre-schedule their waits and gain flexibility in where/how they wait. This works particularly well in emergency rooms and walk-in clinic settings where waits can be particularly lengthy. This type of system can also allow for data capture ahead of the visit to direct patients to wait in the "right line" based on their needs and provider availability. When patients have the opportunity to cut their wait and have more control of their time, the person waiting is a happier and more “patient” patient.

Healthcare Provider Matching

By integrating queue technology solutions you can expedite care and optimize staff resources as well as provide more personalized care. Once patients are in the system, you can proactively match patients with the most appropriate provider for their care. This could be the fastest available provider or a highly qualified specialist. This kind of control also allows you to schedule most efficiently, as historical data will help determine high volume times, service rates, and other stats that affect where providers should be when in order to offer the best service possible.

Published Wait Time

Known waits feel shorter than unknown waits. Healthcare facilities can use this to their advantage by working from the data captured through queue analytics. You can provide accurate wait time predictions to patients, letting their attention turn back to caring for themselves or their loved one. Wait times can be tracked automatically and then published via digital signage or mobile messaging based on algorithms that combine real-time and historical data to provide the most accurate wait times possible. Telling a patient they can be expected to wait 10 minutes can calm the nerves of someone who might be expecting something more like a 30 minute wait. Likewise, someone expecting a 10 minute wait when it's really going to be 30 minutes will face this reality early and studies show that setting this expectation upfront will actually result in a better experience.
Taking action to improve the waiting experience pays off in ways far beyond just a shorter wait. Happier patients complain less and will be more likely to share positively about their experience, providing a long term reputation boost for the doctor or facility. Also, happier staff are more productive and are more likely to provide service with a smile.

For more information about which solutions may be right for your hospital, office or facility, talk to a Lavi expert. We’re ready for your call.

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