Restless Patients? 3 Ways to Improve Patient Wait Times

Most people, including healthcare providers, consider long wait times for hospital emergency rooms (ER’s) to be an unavoidable byproduct of normal ER operation. In short, most health providers feel there’s little they can do about it, and patients have mostly accepted this, though not without complaint and considerable frustration.

In reality, that assumption is simply untrue.

As with any major change, improving patient wait times has to start with adjusting our perception of the problem. According to a recent Physicians Practice article, Marshall A. Maglothin, a healthcare engagement partner at Tatum, stated, “The first step is to realize that patient wait times can be significantly improved-albeit, most often through targeted process changes.”

Even more importantly, patient wait times need to be improved. According to the Institute of Medicine’s 2015 report on scheduling and healthcare access, excessive patient wait times in ER’s and general practices are not only detrimental to patient satisfaction outcomes, but they can also be potentially harmful to patients who need immediate care.

So what steps can your hospital or practice take to improve patient wait times? The following are some of the adjustments healthcare providers can make to generate better overall care outcomes and create a more efficient patient flow process.

Start with the front-end.
As usual, the best place to start is at the beginning. For practices, this means setting the appropriate expectations when appointments are made, getting as much information as possible from the patient, and requesting the completion of paperwork either online or prior to the appointment date. You should also separate duties, so that one person can answer phones, another can handle scheduling, and someone else can help with patient check-ins. Each of these jobs would move more quickly with a focused worker.

For hospitals, ER wait times are somewhat more difficult, because you can’t always plan for what emergencies might occur. This is where technology can make a big difference.

Let technology help reduce the burden and introduce new ways to help patients.

Technology like online forms systems and patient check-in kiosks can make the front end of patient appointments much easier. For ER’s, patients can even schedule online ER appointments through an online scheduling system, and receive accurate and up-to-date information about wait times for walk-ins. This can help patients plan better, when possible. They can spend part of their wait in the comfort of their own homes before heading to the ER, where they can be seen promptly instead of sitting in the waiting room forever.

Solutions like this, making the best use of technology, can also help you sort through the major emergencies, as those who can wait generally will, and those who cannot will no longer get lost in the crowd of people waiting to be seen.

Create a patient-focused approach to priority management.
How much is your hospital culture focused on what’s best for the patient? Often, it’s easy to lose track of that goal in medicine, when doctors, nurses, and staff are simply trying to manage and treat everyone to the best of their abilities. The numbers and challenges can sometimes become overwhelming.

At times, the best thing you can do is step back and review your policies from a patient perspective. According to one article in Healthcare Business and Technology, to accomplish a change in culture towards improving patient wait times and, ultimately, patient satisfaction, the management team needs to make reducing wait times and efficient policies that benefit the patients a priority, one that would result in regular reviews, monitoring, and procedural adjustments to encourage positive change.

In short, patient wait times can be improved in your hospital or practice, if you and your team take the time to make adjustments to the way you approach your patient work flow. With the right technology to support your efforts, you could reduce your wait times significantly-a change that your patients will love.
About the Author - Ashley Choate is a native of Jacksonville, FL where she lives with her son, dog, and three cats. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Jacksonville University with a BA in English and holds an MAED in Adult Education and Training. She lives for reading and writing, learning and teaching, and figuring out the day-to-day traumas and joys of mommyhood.