Everyone hates waiting, and patients are no exception. But it’s not just the time spent in waiting rooms that matters. Perception is everything. That’s why Starbucks has comfortable seating at their cafes which creates a perception in the minds of customers that they need to stay there longer, leading to more sales. Think about other industries too. People stand in line for hours waiting for the new iPhone, but how many of those people actually believed they were spending that much time there? Not many — if any. So how does this apply to your office? What if I told you there were ways to improve wait time for patients by decreasing the actual time patients spend in that room and also by limiting the perceived time they spend in it? Here’s how:
Create a calming and welcoming waiting room
A more attractive waiting room can go a long way. The goal is not to create a waiting room that looks like it belongs in an office building, but one that feels comfortable and welcoming. If you have the budget, consider these ways to improve yours:
- Keep it clean: Everything should be as clean as possible. Not only the waiting room, but your whole office is a representation of you. Patients receive you a certain way depending on what they see, and you want to be seen as the best professional.
- TVs are no longer a good option. Unless you have educational material you can show them, TVs are not a good way to keep patients entertained. But why? Because you’re not giving them a choice about what to see, plus they may not even hear it.
- Provide reading material. And keep it updated. We strongly suggest having a few coffee-table books instead of magazines. Or basic tablets with digital magazines (much easier to update), newspapers, or health apps. Also, prepare pamphlets about your services and print them to show them in your waiting room, many would be interested in knowing more about the procedures.
- Add a bit of green and light: If it’s between your possibilities, put your waiting room where there’s a window. The glimpse of the exterior is a good relief from the stress of the interior. Adding plants (real or fake ones) or artwork about nature will give them something familiar to look at, bringing a feeling of comfort.
Comfort is key
Make patients feel like they’re spending less time waiting. Comfortable chairs or sofas are a MUST. The more comfortable they are while seating, the less stressed about waiting they’ll be. Also, consider adding enough light but don’t go overboard with it. Way too much light can get them to feel stressed because of the intensity, but if there’s little to no light, it’ll be hard for them to use the reading material you provide to them. Consider going for ambient lighting instead of just using regular over-the-head lights. To stick to the welcoming of the waiting room, try to use warm light bulbs. Cooler lights feel sterile and uninviting if what you go for are comfort and calmness. For patients that need to get stuff done while they wait, you can make your waiting room work-friendly by adding a table for patients with laptops and outlets to keep their devices charged.
Seating placement is important
Some patients want to be in groups when they go with family, while others want privacy. Place your seats with that idea in mind. If you want people to feel comfortable, make sure that they have enough space between them and their neighbors. Just make sure every seat has a clear view of the front desk and receptionist’s desk so visitors won’t feel isolated from the rest of your staff.
Use technology to your advantage
Use technology as much as possible to limit wait time spent on paperwork. You can use tablets or laptops to take down patient information and even send it directly to the doctor. You can also install a system that will let patients fill out forms online before they come in, making their wait shorter. While paper files are still required in many cases, there are numerous electronic options available that can help streamline your documentation process — from electronic health records (EHRs) and patient portals to telemedicine and virtual appointments. You’ll find that using these tools will not only save time but also improve your communication with patients and other providers on staff at your practice or hospital.
Communicate with your patients
Patients would be less stressed or frustrated if they know in advance what their waiting time might be. Consider having a wait-time board to see whether the doctor is on schedule or the number of minutes he’s running behind. You can also set up alerts about the wait status with texts or calls so patients can know in advance that their appointment might be delayed a bit, giving them enough time to fit in an errand or get a coffee before heading to your waiting room. This helps them feel like everything is less rushed and their time is being appreciated.
Whether you’re a hospital administrator or an individual doctor, there are ways to make everyone’s wait time more effective and pleasant. It all begins with paying attention to the small things. Little improvements can go a long way toward making your patients feel welcome and comfortable. In the end, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for managing wait time. Your location and clientele may require a different strategy than another clinic. But having a plan for minimizing wait time will contribute to making your clients happy and building trust with them—so don’t put it off any longer! If you’ve done all this and are still having trouble, don’t hesitate to seek help.
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