Decreasing Patient Wait Times

November 18, 2016
Karen Appold

Patients wait an average of 38 minutes-15 of them in the exam room-before being seen. And as wait times increase, patient satisfaction decreases.

A study in the American Journal of Managed Care1 reports that patients wait an average of 38 minutes-15 of them in the exam room-before being seen. And as wait times increased, patient satisfaction scores decreased.

So how can neurologists lower wait times? Steven Peltz, practice management consultant at Peltz Practice Management & Consulting Services, LLC, in Brewster, NY, and a member of the National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants (NSCHBC), offers some suggestions-beginning with good communication among staff.

When the patient arrives, front desk staff should notify clinical staff. “As soon as an exam room becomes available, a staff member should escort the patient to the room-so the patient feels closer to having their appointment,” Peltz says. Prior to the appointment, an assistant should ensure that all test results are ready for the neurologist to review.

From the neurologist’s standpoint, it’s important to begin the day on time. Another matter of courtesy is not to bring a smart phone into the exam room. Instead, have the office manager monitor it and interrupt the physician only if an emergency occurs.

In addition, staff should hold all non-urgent questions until the end of a shift or write them (either on paper or email) so the doctor can address them in his or her office, says Larry R. Brooks, president, Practice Flow Solutions, Roswell, GA, and also a member of NSCHBC.

The neurologist should also delegate a medical assistant or scribe to enter data as he talks to the patient. If someone knocks on the exam room door, the assistant should address it. The assistant should also escort the patient out, and assist the patient in making his or her next appointment.

“Physicians are in the business of selling time and knowledge,” Brooks says. “They should thoroughly assess how their time is consumed, and identify what tasks absolutely require them and those that do not. Then, they should delegate or remove those tasks to allow them to spend more time dispensing their knowledge and skill.” 

Regarding staff, cross training helps to fill gaps when another staff member is absent or extra busy. In particular, the office manager should be able to perform all administrative tasks. Furthermore, all staff should be able to use the electronic health record system.

Brooks points out that poor communication systems and staff leaving their work areas to accomplish things that could be handled more efficiently are the biggest time wasters in a medical practice. “The practice needs to observe how the staff’s time is consumed, just as doctors should do,” he says. 

Just like it’s not good for the neurologist to be late, tardy patients can be problematic. When a patient isn’t on time, Peltz would advise front desk staff to tell the patient that if they are late again, they will either have to reschedule or wait for an opening.

“For a no-show that does not cancel at least 24 hours before the appointment, call the patient and explain the practice’s policy,” Peltz says. “If it happens again, charge the practice’s no-show fee. If they consistently do not show without calling ahead, the neurologist should consider terminating them from the practice after discussing it with a malpractice carrier.”

In an effort to prevent tardiness or no-shows, Peltz suggests contacting the patient before their important, by either calling them or sending a text or email.

The bottom line is to keep your patients happy by keeping their appointments on time. Employing these strategies should help.

1. Bleustein C, et al. Wait times, patient satisfaction scores, and the perception of care. Am J Manag Care. 2014;20(5):393-400.