Wait time is an important element in the patient experience, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Waiting is an inconvenience, but not being informed makes it worse. When our mystery shoppers make patient visits, they track not only the actual wait time in minutes, but they also document the waiting experience and how they felt about it.
We find that most of our mystery patients will tolerate waiting much better when they are kept informed about the anticipated time, and the reason for the delay. Unfortunately this simple action is not done nearly as often as it should be. Based on our data, I’d say that for every situation where staff does a good job of keeping patients informed, there are ten that don’t.
If it’s such a simple thing to do, why isn’t it done more often? Because staff are nervous and feel ill prepared to deal with angry or upset patients. They are scared of being yelled at and don’t know what to say.
In our customer service training, we stress how important it is to manage expectations from the beginning, and to keep patients informed even when they don’t have all the answers. For example, if someone is checking in and you know the doctor is running 20 minutes behind – tell them about the delay up front rather than letting them sit without any information.
Help the staff practice how to respond when a patient is upset. Practicing helps them feel better prepared and empowered to take action with confidence.
Remember, it’s not always the wait time – it’s the lack of information.