What is one of the biggest pet peeves for patients? Waiting! According to a Software Advice study, 97% of medical patients are frustrated by long wait times. Your patients have somewhere else to be besides your waiting room. Ideally, you can get them into the treatment room in a reasonable amount of time. However, making people wait is sometimes inevitable, so we’ll also offer suggestions for improving their time in your waiting area.
The Psychological Side: Why Is the Patient Waiting Room Such a Pain?
- What is it about waiting that drives us around the bend? First of all, life today is a multi-tasking, overly busy existence. For a stressed-out patient, waiting at the dentist is just one more stressor. But there are actual psychological factors that make waiting worse.
- For one, we become most irritated when we wait for long periods without knowing why. Dentists and doctors know that creating time buffers between appointments leaves them vulnerable to dead time slots during the day when people cancel or don’t show up, but waiting patients likely don’t know this.
- They also don’t realize that there’s an emergency with another patient or several staff members are out sick. At least, unless you tell them!
- Patients also respond negatively to unfair wait times. Yes, you probably have a good reason to prioritize that patient who just walked in who, for instance, has terrible pain. But to those in the waiting area, it appears unfair. And patients hate waiting with no idea how long the wait will last. In all of these cases, communication is the key to happier patients. So, our first recommendation is to communicate, communicate, communicate: explain why there is a wait and, if possible, give them an idea of how long the wait will be.
Solution One to the Waiting Game: Shorten Wait Times
There are several ways to decrease patients’ annoyance. For instance, shorten waiting times whenever possible! Review your dental practice management processes and policies. Are you overbooking too frequently? Can you better anticipate appointments that are likely to go over? What about patient management? Are you waiting for late patients? Create a lateness/no-show policy that requires patients who show up 15 minutes late to reschedule. Lastly, develop a printable form that patients can fill in with health history and any dental complaints they may have before coming to the office. Tell them it’s designed to shorten wait times, and they’ll jump at the chance!
Solution Two to the Waiting Game: Improve the Waiting Experience
Waiting, like other unpleasant things in life, sometimes just happens. One major part of a patient’s experience while waiting is your practice design. Make sure your dentist waiting room and reception area are stylish, comfortable, and reflective of your practice’s brand and mission.
Give patients something to do! Whether it’s iPads loaded with games and movies, work areas with chargers for smartphones and computers, or free Wi-Fi so they can continue working, patients need to feel like they are not just sitting idly. And not all patients are the same: some need a quiet corner to read, others have children who need to play to pass the time, and others would rather work.
The most important way to improve the patient’s experience is to treat them like they matter. Give them a sense of how long the wait will be when they arrive, and update them as things change. If it’s appropriate, tell them why wait times are excessively long. Communication, along with efforts to improve the waiting area experience, will go a long way to cultivate your patient relationships!
Sources: Software Advice Study (http://www.softwareadvice.com/resources/how-to-treat-patient-wait-time-woes/, July 20th, 2017)