Clinical News

Will Patient Wait Times Ever Be Reduced?

Will Patient Wait Times Ever Be Reduced?

The excruciatingly long wait times are why patients don’t like going to the doctor’s office. Having to wait for over an hour can be exhausting especially when you’re in a room full of sick people. If you’re going to the doctor it’s either for a regular checkup or because you’re suffering from pain or some sort of discomfort. In the first scenario you feel like the long waiting hours aren’t worth it for a checkup and that you could’ve spent that time doing something else that you like. In the second scenario it’s really not pleasant to be in pain and have to wait a long time in order to see your physician.

Long doctor wait times are due to a variety of factors. First of all, there’s a shortage of doctors in the United States especially when it comes to primary care physicians. Another reason is because of student loans so doctors have to see more patients in order to make more money so that they can repay those loans quickly. Poor performance of the office staff could also be a major factor. There are lots of things doctors can do to solve this issue or at least minimize it as much as possible. For instance they could worry less about money. They could also make sure a patient’s papers are ready beforehand. Lastly if there’s nothing else they can do then the least they can provide to their patients is a comfortable reception area.

One of the main reasons why patients wait long times to see their doctors is because there aren’t many doctors to begin with. It’s like if there was only one supermarket or grocery store in an entire city. There would be serious lines at that shop and it would be almost impossible to buy anything from all the people. If you only have a few doctors in the city then the load on them is going to be huge. If in a neighborhood of 5,000 people there are two doctors then each will get around 2,500. If there are 5 doctors, however; then each of them will handle about 1,000 patients. The difference in numbers is huge. Keep in mind that not the entire neighborhood will get sick at the same time obviously so at a single time the amount of patients seen will only be a fraction of the total.

Fewer and fewer people are choosing to become doctors. One of the major factors this is, besides the difficulty, is that the potential student loans are enough to scare people from that career path. It takes forever to become a doctor and when you graduate most of your income in the first few years goes to paying student loans. Then there’s specialty choice. Most med students go for more competitive specialties when they graduate. They choose surgeries and other high income specialties which is again partly thanks to student loans. When most people get sick, however, what they need is a family doctor or a pediatrician. Everyone has been to a family doctor at least once, but few of us have been to an orthopedic surgeon or an urologist. Everyone gets a cold and everyone gets the stomach flu, but not everyone breaks a bone. Even if you do break a bone it’s usually a one-time thing, but we all get sick at least once every couple of years.

There are lots of ways to reduce waiting time in your office. One of these is by having everything ready for a patient before they come in. If you wait for a patient to walk into your office before you start looking for their paperwork and records then you’re wasting time. Your assistants should prepare these things once a patient registers that they’ve arrived in order to save time. You should definitely have a system that connects your computer with your assistants’ so that transfer of files is much quicker. It even makes you look more professional and allows your patients to trust you more. If you already have their file open then you know their name and a few details about them which will give them the impression you remember them. That will definitely make them like you more.

Another solution is to worry less about money. One of the reasons doctors see so many patients per day is in order to make more money. It’s somewhat understandable that student loans are awful especially if there’s an interest rate, but that shouldn’t affect the quality of care you provide to patients. If you compromise the quality of care then patients may stop coming to you altogether and look for a different doctor. Money will come eventually and it won’t kill you to pay student loans in 4 years rather than 3. Don’t let money influence your choices as well. If you love pediatrics or family medicine then you should definitely choose them. Don’t be a plastic surgeon just because it pays better even though it’s not the specialty you like the most. You’ll do better at what you like and will eventually make lots of money through it.

When you tell a patient you’ll see them again next year for the regular check up they might want to book next year’s appointment as they leave your office today. They book an appointment way too early because they’re worried they might not find an available one if they try to book a few weeks in advance. This will lead to a vicious cycle where your patients keep booking too far in advance. You should put an end to this by setting a limit. For instance you can instruct your reception staff that no appointments should be made further than 2 months ahead. That way you guarantee that things are somewhat fair and evened out. Booking too far in advance can hurt your schedule too as you can end up with days that have too many patients and other days where there’s barely anyone in the office.

Mobile queues are another incredible idea that you may want to implement. Through an app, your patients can find out how many patients are still ahead of them and how far along they are in line. That way a patient can leave and come back later if they have something to do or would rather wait somewhere else. If a patient sees they have 5 or 6 patients ahead of them they can go get something to eat and come back when there are only 1 or 2 patients ahead. This will also make your office less crowded and allow the people who would rather wait in the reception to be more comfortable.

Finally, if you do the best you can and waiting times are still a bit long then at least make your waiting area comfortable. If you’re a pediatrician then leave some toys for the kids to play with. If you’re a family physician then you could leave magazines or books in the waiting area and put a TV there. Maybe decorate a little and get a small fish tank. Also make sure your staff members are nice to patients and don’t slack off as that can make things worse.

Long waiting times at the doctor’s office are a bummer. It’s a shame having to wait an hour for a 15 minute appointment with your physician. As a doctor there are things you can do and work on in order to make waiting time as short as possible. If you do everything in your power and the problem still persists then you’re either doing something wrong or you’re one of a few doctors around so the load will always be high. If that’s the case then work on making patients comfortable and explain the problem to them. They’ll understand that it’s out of your hands.