No one likes to wait. Even some of the most easy going people in the world can lose patience when they have to wait longer than expected. That’s why it’s so important to manage patient expectations and provide updates early and often, throughout encounters. Research has shown that it’s not the actual wait time that bothers patients most. It’s not knowing what to expect.
How long will I wait? What is causing the delay? Did they forget about me? These are just a few of the questions that roll through a patient’s mind as he sits in the waiting room or in an exam room. Yet when staff take the time to manage patient expectations, they work wonders in curbing anxiety. I’ve noticed that the higher the patient anxiety, the greater the need for updates and reassurance. Consider the patient waiting for surgery. He may have been anticipating the event for weeks and now the day of surgery has arrived. After being told to arrive at 5:45 AM for an 8:00 AM surgery, he sits waiting at 8:30 AM. The discomfort goes far beyond his dry mouth and lips. He was more than likely anxious before the delay just thinking about what lies ahead.
Every patient deserves to be kept informed, which means it’s up to you to have standards and processes in place to ensure that updates occur on a consistent basis. The reality is, however, I frequently see evidence that there are no such processes in place. Many organizations leave this vital element of the patient experience to chance, hoping that common sense will drive staff behaviors. Don’t. Set specific standards and, through leader rounding, ensure that patients and families are kept informed. You may not be able to shorten the actual wait time, but you can work wonders to improve the experience by staying connected.