If you are a patient, you most definitely had experienced waiting for doctors’ consultations. Usually, it is long (or very long) and uninteresting. If you are a doctor, you must have worried quite significantly about keeping your patients waiting while you juggle all your clinical responsibilities. And if you are a healthcare administrator, you look at the waiting time data each month and wonder what you could do differently. In short, everyone is affected by waiting time, whether they like it or not.
Waiting time to see doctors for consultations is a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for most if not all, outpatient health service providers. It is used as a direct measure of service efficiency and often assumes an indirect relationship with patients’ satisfaction. It is measured from the time patients register their attendance to the time they enter the doctors’ rooms for consultations. The waiting time data can be collected automatically or manually and is usually monitored by Quality Managers, who then make necessary recommendations.
It is used as a direct measure of service efficiency and often assumes an indirect relationship with patients’ satisfaction.
A few years ago, waiting time meant quite differently to me as a hospital administrator. I must say that my new found experience as a patient has changed my perception of the concept altogether. I came to realise that the start-to-end time is not the only thing that mattered. I often leave outpatient clinics feeling moved by the pleasant aspects incorporated in that end-to-end experience rather than the absolute time that I waited for my doctors’ consultations. These are aspects of waiting time worth improving on.
As a patient who is also a healthcare administrator, I knew very well that waiting is an aspect of a doctor’s visit that cannot be avoided. However, the waiting experience can be made better if the process that leads to it is made simpler. For example, don’t make patients wait a long time at a central registration counter whenever possible as that will only add up to the total waiting experience. Allow patients to register directly at the clinic where they are meant to see their doctors to cut the waiting substantially. This is a key waste cutting step in Lean Healthcare.
How many times have you experienced a great outpatient clinic ambience that you don’t even realise that you have been waiting to see your doctor for quite a long time? Sometimes it is the noise level that gives you a sense of calmness, sometimes it is the level of brightness or natural lighting in the clinic that made it that much more pleasant. Other times it is the ample waiting space and engaging materials available, written or audiovisual, that delights you. The key is to immerse patients in as many physically delightful details as possible to affect their perceptions.
Having customer (patient) service staffs who are warm and helpful makes a huge difference to patients who have to wait for their doctors. Communicating any unexpected changes to the doctors’ schedule which causes further waiting for the patients, really helps build mutually respectful relationships. Nothing frustrates and disempowers patients more than having to wait for doctors without knowing why they are late and when they will eventually turn up. Put the power back into patients’ hands and let them decide what to do with all that waiting time.
From my experience as a patient, all is forgiven (including extra-long waiting time) provided that doctors came out with solid care plans at the end of each visit. Note that it is not so much the eventual outcome of care, but rather the outcome of each visit that matter. If the outcome of each visit meets or exceed patients’ expectations, it often justifies the long waiting time for that visit. Therefore, it is very important that healthcare providers recognise patients’ expectations for those visits and attempt to meet or surpass it.
As healthcare systems all over the world strive to minimise the absolute waiting time for outpatients through efficiency models, it is the finer details seamlessly incorporated into making the waiting time more delightful, enjoyable and engaging to the patients that would make all the difference. The focus should shift from efficiency to effectiveness because there is only so much we can do to minimise waiting but there are vast opportunities for improvement to make patients feel better while at it. It is not how well we do things that matter, it is how differently we do it that will.
It is not how well we do things that matter, it is how differently we do it that will.
An article by Stacey Chang, MS about how waiting rooms for speciality clinics were completely redesigned at Dell Medical School, entitled “Nobody Wants a Waiting Room” is definitely worth reading. I think it really supports the points I made above in such a clear and wonderful manner. If you are looking for a real-world example or proof that improving the waiting experience is possible, you won’t be disappointed. I assure you that it will change the way you perceive waiting time, waiting rooms and the waiting experience forever.