One of the eternal struggles for physicians is the balance between maximizing revenue and valuing patients’ time. Squeezing in as many appointments as possible may seem like the best way to maximize revenue, but does this practice hurt a physician in the long term? If a physicians’s scheduling system is not a well-oiled machine, this can lead to daily turmoil: long in-office wait times and stressful situations for staff, patients, and doctors. Conversely, if a doctor does not schedule as many patients as possible in a day, this may lengthen how long a patient has to wait to get an appointment. Striking the balance is the key to meeting patients’ expectations and creating a positive experience—especially for new patients.
Wait times for new patients
Attracting new patients and retaining them is often job number one for physician marketers. Once a patient has made the critical decision to make an appointment, however, marketers are often challenged by lengthy wait times before a new patient can make an appointment. In a 2014 study of new patient wait times, the average wait time to see a dermatologist, for example, for a routine skin cancer screening, was more than 28 days—nearly a month. The average wait time varies depending on the specialty and location, but new patients in the busiest metro areas could wait up to three months to book an appointment with a doctor.
This can be frustrating for new patients and can cause patients to look elsewhere for treatment. Physicians who are looking to increase the number of patients they treat should specifically set appointments aside for new patients in order to see them sooner. The first visit is critical for patients, and doctors should prioritize them if they want to grow their practice.
In-office wait times
Imagine being asked to wait three months before seeing a physician, and then being asked to wait 30 minutes or more once you are in the office. In 2011, the average wait time across all types of practices was 23 minutes. That means at many offices, if a doctor sees you within 20 minutes of your appointment, it’s a pretty good day.
For many patients, satisfaction with their visit is directly correlated to the amount of time spent waiting. A 2012 Press Ganey study found that patients who were asked to wait 0-5 minutes reported a 93% satisfaction rate, while patients who were asked to wait 10 minutes or more reported an 85% satisfaction rate.
Physician marketers should encourage their clients to carefully consider their booking practices. Schedules should be adjusted by analyzing patterns and anticipating recurrent patient needs. Blocks of time should be set aside for emergencies, new patient appointments, and extra time for patients. Office staff should be trained to communicate with waiting patients, keeping them up to date on the status of their appointment. Less waiting time clearly communicates to patients that their time is valued, and they in turn will value that service.