Wait Times: It’s Not About the Time. It’s About the Experience.

Wait time has been a measure in patient experience for years. And, for decades, we measured the number of minutes spent in the waiting room beyond the scheduled appointment time. What we learned is that it isn’t always about the number of minutes, but about the waiting experience that matters most. One of the most important things we can do to improve the patient experience is managing expectations about the wait time. That requires keeping patients and families informed throughout the waiting period. Why? Because when patients and families place their trust in the healthcare system, they are often frightened and vulnerable. What they are expecting may be very different from the clinical realities. 

Today I am sitting in the waiting room at an academic medical center while my brother has brain surgery to repair two sizable brain aneurysms. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty anxiety-provoking situation for our family. But we are reassured because the entire team is providing continuous updates. 

Start Early

Starting during the admission process, the nurse ran a test to my cell phone. She wanted to ensure they had the correct number and that it worked inside the building. Using text, they kept me informed every step of the way from the operating room. That immediately reassured us. That simple step said:

  • We care about you
  • We want you to know about your loved one
  • We are committed to keeping you informed 

Setting Expectations

Knowing that they had given us a four-hour estimate for the surgery, the surgical waiting room attendant approached us at the estimated time to say everything was going as planned. Just as he said that my phone pinged to say they were closing the incisions, and that the surgeon would be meeting with us in 20 minutes. 

Whether waiting for a physician appointment in a waiting room or a surgical area waiting for news of a loved one, lack of information is anxiety-provoking. Every touch point in the patient’s experience should be designed to decrease human suffering. In this case, the human suffering was the emotional strain of waiting for word. 

In my decades of training and coaching on the patient experience and conducting secret shopping, I cannot overstate the value of communication and managing expectations. My experience this week raised my confidence that we’ve come a long way in mastering the patient experience in some settings. Let’s continue spreading best practices. 

Have you optimized your systems to create the best possible patient experience? Contact us today to learn how we can help make sure your organization is set for success. Set up a free 30-minute consult today. 

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