A screaming child to the right, a coughing man to the left, and a woman speaking on her phone at what seems to exceed the acceptable decibel level.
Patients often feel that a waiting room is like purgatory. Even though they know it’s likely that their appointment will not be right on time, humans are predictable animals, becoming restless at 5 minutes, agitated at 15 and apoplectic at 45. (Footnote – train and reward your reception staff; they’re the frontline!)
This post isn’t about why waiting time is an increasing problem. We all know the reasons– doctors under pressure to maximize income by seeing as many patients a day as possible; people who take longer than their appointed time, emergencies etc.
It’s also not about how to reduce waiting times; that is a topic for another time.
Extended waiting times are always going to happen. Let’s discuss what will make the wait more pleasant for patients.
A 2008 survey found a direct positive association between appealing waiting rooms and how that person felt about his/her doctor’s appointment.
More attractive facilities lead to higher levels of satisfaction. Waiting rooms that are less attractive result in people overestimating the amount of time they have actually spent waiting.
What makes a room aesthetically pleasing? Let’s start with the obvious. Do you really need those old posters on that wall – especially the droopy one? That plant’s a bit sick, isn’t it, and, how about an interior refresh?
Invest in a refurbish
More food for thought: the psychology of color is well documented. Choose bright, happy colors, and comfortable chairs and couches. Consider the layout of the seats, natural light, artwork on walls, plants, along with entertainment such as a TV (sound off, closed caption on) and a variety of magazines – up to date and intact. A children’s area is also a welcome idea for parents (ensuring that it’s set to one side with noise in mind which is appreciated by other patients).
Out of the box ideas
The receipt concept of active waiting time involves creating a “value added service” in the waiting room. This could be as simple as providing a series of educational materials on nutrition, recipes and wellbeing. Secured tablets that feature games, daily newspapers and up-to-date digital magazines are another option that has proven to be popular with patients.
Other value-adds include free wi-fi and areas to charge cell phones.
Entrepreneurial clinics go even further and create their own clinic app featuring interesting health related information, health quizzes, recipes and more.
Honesty is the best policy
Nothing, however, can turn an unusually long wait from a fully blown stressful situation to a small nuisance better than honesty and communication. Patients hate being kept in the dark more than being kept waiting.
Reception and general staff must be properly trained in patient communication. This includes Alice, who’s worked in the clinic for 23 years and who “doesn’t need any of that training BS, thank you very much!”
Patients only want to feel as though they are being noticed. If there’s going to be a wait longer than 15 minutes, staff needs to be upfront about it from the moment a patient has signed in. If someone comes in after a patient but is called in before, explain why before someone simmering turns into an explosion.
Identify a staff member who could act as waiting room liaison. If it’s a particularly busy day, a visit to the waiting room, a chat with each person waiting and a general explanation to all will calm the waters. Sure, this staff member is busy with his/her own work – give that employee a pay rise. It’ll be the best money you’ve ever spent.
Finally, for a patient who has been waiting for an unusually long period of time, a simple “I’m sorry for the long wait” from the doctor can usually settle any lingering unhappiness.