Office Environment

Long Wait Times Lower Overall Patient Satisfaction

By Cheryl G. Murphy, OD
When it comes to the waiting rooms of healthcare providers, optometrists hold the record for having the shortest wait time. However, a newly released study shows that even though the wait time for an eye exam is relatively short, it still can significantly impact patient satisfaction ratings.
A new study published in Clinical Ophthalmology in August 2013 shows that patient satisfaction is inversely proportional to wait time and it may be the most influential factor determining whether or not a patient was satisfied with the overall experience.

The study was conducted in an ophthalmology outpatient clinic at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Data on the wait time of each patient was objectively recorded, and patients were asked to complete a patient satisfaction survey at the end of their exam before checking out. Researchers found that the longer people had to wait, the more likely they were to become dissatisfied with their overall experience of the eye exam. The cost of care had no influence on the patient’s satisfaction, meaning that even patients who qualified for free healthcare and paid nothing out of pocket for the eye exam were still just as dissatisfied if the wait time was long as those who had endured 100 percentof the cost themselves.
The authors of the study stated they found that “patient satisfaction with the level of knowledge of the doctor, as well as with the amount of time spent with the doctor, was also correlated with overall satisfaction.” So they suggest that “strategies employed to decrease clinic wait times should not do so at the expense of [the doctor’s] face-to-face time with the patient.”
According to Vitals.com, the national average wait time to see a general physician last year was 20 minutes, 15 seconds. In 2011, a Press Ganey study showed that optometrists actually had the lowest wait time among all doctors with an average wait time of about 17 minutes. Even though optometry has held the record for the shortest wait times in medicine, I think that the University of Virginia School of Medicine study shows us that we should still be conscious of patient wait time as it has been proven to strongly impact patient satisfaction.
Optometric offices that have technicians collect data for optometrists before they see patients (also known as pre-testing) may be one way to keep the patient flow moving and have patients feel like they are being attended to instead of just being left in the waiting room. Inviting patients to start browsing frames in the optical portion of the office while waiting for the doctor may be another way to make patients feel like their time spent waiting was not time wasted. If a patient does have to wait longer than expected, consider promptly apologizing to the patient for the wait time as soon as you greet them. This can help to wipe the slate clean for the doctor and the patient and they may be more likely to leave any initial bad feelings about the wait time behind.

What other strategies do you utilize to help keep patients in the waiting room satisfied? Do you offer free water, coffee or drinks? Do you offer books, iPads or free wifi? Do you feel these “free perks” change a patient’s overall satisfaction? What other methods does your practice use to keep patient flow moving?

Cheryl G. Murphy, OD, practices at an independent optometric practice in Holbrook, NY. You can like her on Facebook or follow her on twitter @murphyod. To contact her: murphyc2020@gmail.com.

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