Part 1 of 2: The top 3 challenges healthcare providers face when communicating wait times to patients

medical time

There is often disconnect between the patient and the healthcare provider’s understanding of how a clinic should operate. It is difficult to manage each side’s expectations, as numerous factors that are beyond both the clinic’s control and the patient’s understanding, present obstacles to communicating waiting times effectively.

Within busy medical practices, it's not unusual to discover full waiting rooms of people who are eager to see their doctor on time. When patients make an appointment – they expect their doctor to keep it. But when things don't run to schedule, and without being privy to the reasons for delays, patience can wear thin, and frustrations can boil over into negative feedback, in-person and online.

We understand that a lot is happening behind-the-scenes on any given day, and because of unpredictable events and tight scheduling, it can be difficult to manage everybody's expectations. It's not impossible, though.

In this article, we'll touch on the key challenges healthcare providers face when communicating wait times with their patients, including getting the balance right, influencing perceptions, and managing online feedback.

We'll then follow up with practical solutions to these challenges in our next blog (Part 2), which will provide some easy to implement strategies for effective communication and a better experience for everyone involved.

Understanding the challenges

Before jumping to the solutions, we need first to understand the issues, starting with an empathetic look at the needs of both patients and providers.

Challenge 1 - The balancing act

We've all found ourselves watching the clock in waiting rooms, wondering what the hold-up could be. Conversely, practice managers often find themselves juggling schedules, customer service, and patient happiness levels - all while ensuring the efficient running of the business.

Patients feel frustrated when providers are often restricted in their ability to reveal the reasons for extended wait times - delays that are frequently caused by factors outside of their control, for example, late cancellations or no-shows.

In an attempt to combat this, healthcare providers may take actions like such as overbooking appointments to account for cancellations. While this runs the risk of creating longer wait times, it is in their best interest to maintain a full schedule and negate the effect of human error (like forgetfulness or unreliability) wherever possible.

In the majority of practices, this business decision isn't openly communicated to patients. We'll explore the pros and cons of sharing this information in Part 2.

Challenge 2 - Conflicting perceptions

The conflicting interests of providers and patients can create disharmony when it comes to communicating wait times. Some healthcare providers may not view waiting times as an issue, rather, a by-product of a busy and successful clinic. Alternatively, patients may perceive it as an indication of disinterest or dysfunction. Addressing this disconnect through education is vital to creating a more positive experience (more on this in Part 2).

Challenge 3 - Amplified frustrations

For healthcare providers, the prevalence of social media has made addressing wait time communication a priority. Adverse patient experiences are spread online via electronic word of mouth, and feedback condemning lengthy waits can quickly damage a clinic's reputation and future success. There are ways to avoid reaching this point though, and methods for addressing online feedback in an informative, educative way.

Reaching an understanding

NEXA believes it is in the best interest of both parties to work together towards a mutual understanding of how clinics operate and define reasonable expectations.

Increased empathy, on both sides, will change the perception of wait times and consequently create a more positive experience. Sometimes, healthcare providers aren't as concerned about timeliness as they are about providing high-quality treatment, while patients often fail to appreciate the difficulty of balancing a successful and efficiently run service.

Bridging the expectations gap through clear and timely communication and education is the only way forward in overcoming these challenges, and will be explored in our next blog, on “Overcoming the challenges around wait time communication”. If you can't wait for Part 2 and would like to discuss your unique service delivery issues, please contact a NEXA expert today.


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