Patient Wait Time and Customer Service

Last week, one of my co-workers was telling me about the trouble she was having trying to schedule an appointment at her doctor’s office. She had made several attempts to reach the person in charge of setting appointments and on one occasion she waited for over 10 minutes before speaking with someone. The problem was not getting an appointment, but having to leave a voicemail every time she called. Only one person was available to answer the phone. After several attempts and playing phone tag, she was able to get the appointment when she needed it.  Her story was very familiar to me, my own mother had a similar experience after trying to make an appointment with an orthopedic doctor after she “sprained” her leg while skiing (she found out it was actually broken). My experience in customer service makes me think this in not an uncommon challenge for patients. Customers rarely take the time to express their frustrations, they just go elsewhere. There is a perception that patients will put up with bad customer service from a medical center as long they get to see a doctor.  This is not true in today’s competitive environment. Answering the phone promptly, professionally and providing a one call resolution may be the only chance you have to obtain a new patient. 

There are plenty of studies like this one highlighting the correlation between patient satisfaction and the actual one on one time they spend with the doctor during the visit. Ultimately, a large part of patient experience is derived from how the doctor interacts with them. Unfortunately, most of the studies are based on the care the patient receives after they meet with the doctor. When you add up the time the patient spends waiting on hold to making the appointment, waiting in the lobby (21 mins), waiting in the exam room, speaking with office staff or nurses it can have a big impact on the patient experience.  Face to face time with the doctor can be less than 5 minutes, so ultimately the satisfaction of that visit is affected by  time waiting.

Medical offices are businesses too and customers (patients) will look for doctors that understand their expectations beyond great medical care. You can see those changes in many offices today.   Some offer Wi-Fi in the lobby so patients can use their iPad or laptop or flat screen TV’s with interesting programs on. My son’s dentist has a gaming room for kids to ease the pain of waiting.  Others offer after hour scheduling support on the phone or Internet.

What are your thoughts about waiting on hold or at the doctors office?

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