The problems of perceived wait times and how healthcare facilities can manage them

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Your patients already know that wait times are part of the healthcare journey.

However, this doesn’t stop them from becoming frustrated if they feel they have been waiting too long for their turn to be seen by a healthcare professional.

But beyond the actual time that your patients have to wait, there is also a perceived wait time that you have to consider too. Due to certain conditions, your patients may feel like they have been waiting longer than they actually are.

So, how can you make wait times shorter and more bearable?

In this article, we’ll discuss patient wait times (both actual and perceived) as well as the steps that you can take to minimise these and improve your patients’ entire healthcare experience.

Understanding actual versus perceived wait times in healthcare queues

Actual patient wait times refer to the time your patients spend between arriving at your medical facility and being seen by a GP or healthcare specialist. Now think, about how long your average wait times usually are.

For instance, is it 5 minutes? 15 minutes?

Once you have that number, the perceived wait times of a patient are longer than that.

That’s because patients (or people in general, for that matter) tend to get anxious about waiting, causing them to overestimate their wait times. This further heightens when they see a long queue ahead or a number of people in the waiting room with them.

Since they have no idea how long each visit will take for each of the patients they see, the tendency is to expect the worst. Suddenly, a 15-minute wait time seems like it could be an hour to them. When this happens, they may berate your receptionist in frustration, leave and come back another day (where the cycle will repeat), leave a bad review or visit another clinic.

None of these four scenarios bode well for your healthcare facility.

This is why managing perceived wait times is crucial to creating positive healthcare experiences – both for your team and your patients.

How can you manage perceived wait times?

While the go-to solution would be to reduce the actual wait time, it’s also important to acknowledge that the anxiety of waiting often has very little to do with the actual length of waiting – it’s actually “the quality of the wait” that matters more.

By addressing these perceived wait times, you can avoid the following:

  • congested waiting rooms
  • long physical queues
  • overwhelmed staff
  • frustrated patients

Here are several steps you can take to help you manage the perceived wait times of your patients:

  1. Adopt an efficient appointment booking system.

Most patients today prefer online booking appointment systems – and for good reason. By allowing your patients to book their appointments at their convenience online, they can work around their timetables and get to the clinic with clear expectations of their scheduled appointment.

To ensure that these appointments are then kept, you can also use these appointment scheduling systems to implement policies for late or no-show patients and send automated reminders to avoid missed bookings.

  1. Provide multiple check-in options.

After setting the appointment, you can manage the visit by providing check-in options such as digital kiosks. Your patients can check in early, get a queue number and spend their time however they want, knowing that they will get an alert when it’s almost their turn to see the healthcare specialist.

This way, no one has to wait idly in the waiting room, getting more and more anxious while they wait to be called.

  1. Activate the wait and keep your patients occupied.

Since there are patients who will still opt to wait within your facility, you want to make sure that you can make them as comfortable as possible for the entire duration.

This could be as simple as having your staff interact with them in a welcoming way, installing TVs, offering free Wi-Fi or having magazines on display that your patients can use to stay entertained while waiting.

  1. Clearly communicate wait times, delays and more.

A huge part of the anxiety of perceived waiting comes from uncertainty. So, it helps to communicate wait times from the beginning and provide patients with regular updates (as well as clear reasons) in case of delays to help reduce their frustration.

  1. Adapt an efficient queue management solution.

With an efficient queue management solution, you can do all these and more. From the moment your patients arrive to the time they see a medical specialist, you can streamline the patient journey and provide your team with full visibility of the journey.

This will allow you to establish seamless operations and create better patient experiences while minimising both actual and perceived wait times.

Waiting is a challenging part of the patient journey – but as healthcare providers, you have the opportunity to also improve this part by utilising technology, training your staff and interacting with your patients.

Doing this will reduce perceived wait times and make the experience with your healthcare organisation more rewarding and fulfilling.

Make all wait times manageable with NEXA

At NEXA, we understand the importance that your healthcare organisation places on providing the best possible service and experience for every patient – every single day.

That’s why we’re here to help.

NEXA is an Australian company that delivers innovative digital solutions to empower healthcare providers by taking advantage of digital technology. With NEXA, you can support and enable your team, deliver excellent service levels and thrive in today’s evolving landscape.

Do you want to know how you can use innovation and technology to enhance your service delivery and thrive?

Talk to us today to find out how you can make all your interactions matter.


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