Reduce Patient Wait Times Through Workflow Improvements

June 5, 2018

What is the number one, sure-fire way to decrease morale, plummet patient satisfaction ratings, and generally make someone feel like you really do not care about them?

Make them wait indefinitely. Ever since the Veterans Health Administration scandal of 2014, the phrase “wait time” has taken on a dark connotation.

Prior to the scandal, wait times were often expected and doctors and patients had an unspoken understanding that healthcare is a busy business in which each patient receives his or her due attention. Sometimes that resulted in longer waits.

However, once the VA scandal went public, wait times topped the charts as one of the most important patient experience elements that needed to be improved. Whether patients complained of waiting weeks to get an appointment with a specialist or up to an hour to be seen during their scheduled appointments, having a “long wait time” is great way to build a terrible reputation in the healthcare space.

Patient Perceptions

Shortly after the United States turned to glare at the VA, then re-examine their own office wait times, researchers Mathews, Ryan, and Bulman decided to go to the heart of the issue and find out what patients’ own perceptions of the causes of wait times were and how they felt about those causes.

“Wait times for care are frequently cited as a cause of patient dissatisfaction with the health care system,” Mathews, Ryan, and Bulman say. “Our findings shed light on patient experiences with the health system and identify where interventions could help to inform the expectations of patients and the public with respect to wait time.”

According to their qualitative study, which examined the experiences and perceptions of sixty cancer patients undergoing treatment for either breast, prostate, lung, or colorectal cancer, patients attribute longer-than-usual wait times to five main causes:

1. Patient-Related: Issues such as the patient being out of town, considering treatment options, getting a second opinion, or health issues not related to cancer treatment.

2. Treatment-Related: Issues such as healing time, side effects, and inconclusive tests.

3. System-Related: Issues such as staff shortage, HAIs, poor communication between treatment providers, failure to complete tests or procedures, equipment or infrastructure issues.

4. Physician-Related: Issues such as physician absences, failure to follow up after positive test results, or dismissal of symptoms.

5. Other Causes: Uncontrollable issues such as weather or holidays.

Though this study was limited to a small group of cancer patients, the experiences are valid and generalizable to the population at large with regard to the most common causes of long wait times in healthcare.

While only one of these areas is directly related to the systems and technology a healthcare facility uses, several of these areas could be improved upon by implementing the right IT solution.

Healthcare Initiatives

Doctors and their teams are not waiting any longer. They have decided to act and improve wait times for patients across the board. However, some healthcare facilities are not entirely sure how or where to focus their efforts to reduce wait times.

According to a March 2018 poll that surveyed 1,100 medical practices, 49 percent of respondents reported that over the last year they had been actively working to reduce patient wait times. Twenty-two percent of respondents said they were “working on it” and 27 percent said it was not on their radar at the time.

While that latter number may seem shocking, most of the respondents who reported that patient wait times were not a priority they were currently working to improve stated this was because they had already optimized the patient wait experience in previous years.

Clearly, we are all on board with improving the quality of care patients receive by, in one small but important part, reducing wait times.

Technology & The Ticking Clock

For those who understand that improving patient wait times ought to be a priority but who have yet to find a concrete solution, there are options – and they may be easier to implement than you thought.

When it comes to reducing the time, it takes to do anything – whether it be completing an intake appointment or communicating test results from the lab – there is a technology solution that can speed up the process.

While things like weather and patients seeking second opinions are out of your control, the other cause of long patient wait times that Mathews, Ryan, and Bulman illuminate in their research are within your grasp to change.

For example, given our culture’s ever-waxing reliance on handheld devices, ditching the stack of paper forms for the (now) more digitized workflow can speed up the intake process, reduce transcription errors, and eliminate duplicate work for the front office staff.

Even better, have patients fill out the required forms from home via a secure online patient portal platform. The same online platform can be used for secure messaging between patients and physicians or office staff. Rather than playing phone tag with your patients, lab professionals, or specialists, a secure messaging network allows you to receive messages at all times of the day and process them when it is efficient and convenient for your team.

In a study conducted by Software Advice, researchers found that 64 percent of doctors reported that patients arriving later than their scheduled appointment time was the reason for longer wait times for subsequent patients. To counteract this bad patient habit, implement a patient communication software that sends multiple appointment reminders to a patient’s cell phone or email. Include reminders about your late and no-show policies so patients are motivated to arrive on time.

One of the best ways to identify the weakest links in your operation is to ask the patients themselves. Following an appointment, patients can receive an emailed link to an anonymous survey that allows them to provide feedback on their experience, where they had the longest wait times, and their overall opinion of your facility. These insights can help your team channel their energy and resources into the most common problematic areas to make the greatest positive impact.

Our primary concern must always be delivering the highest quality care to patients. If patients care about long wait times, so do we. Thankfully, we have countless solutions at our disposal to solve any of the root causes of the wait time problem. Contact us today to learn more about reducing your patient wait times and increasing satisfaction.

  • Gooch, K. (2018). Poll: 49% of practices changed processes to reduce patient wait times in the last year. Patient Flow. Source link.
  • Loria, G. (n.d.). Practices Must Reduce Patient Wait Times—Here’s How. Software Advice. Source link.
  • Mathews, M., Ryan, D., & Bulman, D. (2015). Patient-expressed perceptions of wait-time causes and wait-related satisfaction. Current Oncology, 22(2). Source link.
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