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I know of a GP practice that was recently presented with an invoice from a patient. Not an invoice for services rendered; an invoice for the time that they had to spend in the waiting room to see their doctor. I don’t know what hourly rate this patient determined their time was worth, but I do know that patients believe that their time is valuable.

Why do we call the waiting room the waiting room instead of the practice foyer or reception?

You’ve heard the old saying that ‘time is money’, and working in a medical practice you are only too aware of this fact, right?

What you are selling is time. Time with a medical expert. Time is the unit of transaction. It is the means by which you determine how much to charge your customers. How much time did they receive?

Given this fact, you would think that timeliness in medical practices was just as important as in any service industry.

Why is it then that running-on-time is one of the key challenges we face in providing medical care? Why do we call the waiting room the waiting room instead of the practice foyer or reception? More importantly, what can we do to reduce patient wait times?

The heart of this issue is that the more complex the service provided, the wider the variance is for the amount time required to deliver it. We know from experience that there’s no such thing as a standard appointment length. There are simply too many factors at play that cannot be predicted, controlled, or planned for.

An efficient patient visit is one that inspires a return visit and long-term patient loyalty.

A patient is not a widget. She or he requires an undefined level of interaction whenever they walk into your practice. So how can you best manage your practice to ensure that your patients are not frustrated by wait times and your practitioners are not stressed by running behind?

Here are a few tricks I’ve used in the past to decrease wait times at my practice:

Reception Staff Training

The use of simple phone scripts can help to determine the patient’s general needs, and therefore help you book the appropriate consult length. For example, when taking a booking over the phone, ask the following: ‘Do you mind if I ask the general nature of your issue, so that I may book you the appropriate amount of time with your doctor?’

With the right script your reception staff will come across as caring and thorough, rather than nosey and transactional.

Buzz Your Practitioners

If your doctors are running late, establish a signal you can use to give them the hurry up. Perhaps you could call their consult room phone and then hang up as a signal for them to get a move on.

Use an Online Booking System

An online booking system is a powerful tool to improve time management in any practice. An online booking system helps reception staff spend less time on the phone, and more time providing high quality care for your patients before and after their appointments. These interactions are highly under-valued as drivers of patient loyalty.

My practice has always used HealthEngine’s online booking system as it allows us to take bookings via both HealthEngine’s website as well as our own website, and it integrates easily with our PMS.

Report Wait Times

Show your practitioners what their average wait time is. You can obtain this detail from most PMS systems. Acknowledge timeliness, and focus on assisting those who routinely run late.

Leverage Nurses

Nurses can be highly valuable in improving efficiency of patient care and the resulting timeliness. They can also give attention to patients whose doctor is running late to give them a quick blood pressure check or other ‘value add’ procedure. Nurses play a great role as a second stage waiting room.

This keeps patients happy and feeling as though they are progressing in their visit.


In Summary

It’s a combination of all of the above that keeps a practice running smoothly and keeping to time.

We’ve placed a big effort on the efficiency of our practice as a means of making sure our patients come back to see us time and time again. An efficient patient visit is one that inspires a return visit and long-term patient loyalty.

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