Improving Wait Times: Tips to Creating a Better Patient Experience

This post is the second in a series. Part One, The Psychology of Waiting vs. Patient Experience Enemy Number One, is available here.

For medical offices and hospitals, a chief cornerstone of delivering a positive patient experience is in “beating the clock.” The amount of time that a patient waits for healthcare services has a direct influence on their sense of satisfaction.

Studies peg the average wait time to see a provider at 24 minutes. But, as our previous post discusses, the “psychology of waiting” produces a significant gap between the actual wait time and the patient’s perceived wait time. So even if you beat the average wait time, patients may still perceive their wait to be too long.

Both the actual wait time and the perceived wait time can be addressed in how the office visit is handled. The Wall Street Journal published an insightful article and infographic about how doctor appointments can be streamlined within three process subdivisions. They listed:


  • Patient self-scheduling – using online appointment systems;
  • Pre-visit planning – registration and other information can be done in advance;
  • Open-access schedule – allowing blocks of times for changes and same-day appointments;
  • Simplify slots – 15 or 30 minutes per patient;
  • Pay up-front – copays for routine visits are handled at the beginning.


  • The huddle – a brief meeting among doctor and staff to make process adjustments;
  • Be informative – let patients know when running late with an option to reschedule;
  • Use exam rooms – move patients out of reception for preparation by staff;
  • Highest use staff – using nurses for flu shots or other routine needs;
  • Standardize stocking – all supplies in same place in exam room reduces time searching;
  • Focus on the patient – face to face time is devoted to the most important issues.


  • Reduce unnecessary visits – when possible, handle routine matters by phone or email;
  • Track cycle time – identify bottlenecks and problem areas to improve system;
  • Satisfaction surveys – periodically assess patient feedback and suggestions.

Patients hate to wait…

If 24 minutes is the average (and considered too long), what is the “right amount” of waiting time? Patients want to be seen in 15 minutes or less, according to Their Report Card survey says that patients who waited less than 15 minutes scored their doctor rating much higher than for waits of 15 to 20 minutes. And waiting times of 30 to 60 minutes (or longer) were significantly lower.

As in previous Report Cards, this large sample survey shows that patients want less time “waiting” and more face-to-face time with the doctor (at least 10 minutes). A similar survey by the consulting firm Press Ganey determined that patient satisfaction scores were highest when wait times were between zero to 15 minutes.

Reducing patient wait times enhances patient satisfaction and it can help the office operate more efficiently and cost-effectively.  Longer waits and lower satisfaction ratings are also likely to mean lost revenue. Patients who feel the practice does not respect their time are likely to look for a more caring provider.

For more on this topic, read The Psychology of Waiting vs. Patient Experience Enemy Number One.

Lonnie Hirsch


About Lonnie Hirsch

Co-Founder of Healthcare Success Strategies, Lonnie has consulted for over 2,000 health care clients during his 20-year career. Lonnie writes for many healthcare publications, and also has spoken at hundreds of venues nationally. His topics include patient experience, customer service, marketing, branding and business development.

, ,

One Response to Improving Wait Times: Tips to Creating a Better Patient Experience

  1. Bonnie Cech February 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Great summary article on waiting and how to streamline patient flow to run on time and improve efficiency and patient experience. I would underscore 2 points: 1) tracking and analyzing cycle time is key to understanding the root causes of patient flow inefficiencies, and 2) scheduling according to the time the patient actually needs based on reason for the visit is often the “biggest bang” for achieve a smoother flow throughout the doctors’ day, and less wait time for patients.

Leave a Reply

Find us on Google+