5 Ways to Reduce Perceived Wait Time

A good queuing system should enhance the patient experience by managing wait time perception.

Uncertainty over wait times increases a patient’s anxiety and makes their wait feel longer than it is. Operations expert David Maister suggested the formula, Satisfaction = Perception – Expectation, as a means of improving a person’s waiting experience. When both the perception and expectation of waiting are managed, a patient’s overall satisfaction increases dramatically.  

All of this is accomplished through these modern queuing technology methods.  

  • Allow the check-in process to begin early.  
  • Find ways to occupy the patient’s time.  
  • Communicate accurate wait time expectations.  
  • Break up the wait into segments.  
  • Proactively explain unexpected delays.

Allow the check-in process to begin early

By providing an early entry point into a visit, we give the true perception that the encounter is proceeding.  

This happens in a traditional lobby system by giving a ticket and then checking the patient into a reception area. Today’s mobile queuing offers additional options like checking in from a patient’s car or even from their home. With automated text messages and video messaging, a receptionist can start encounters from safe distances.  

These early touchpoints assure the patient that the visit is progressing even before entering your lobby.

Find Ways to occupy the patient’s time

In The Psychology of Waiting Lines, David Maister wrote, “Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time.”  

This is well known. Traditionally, healthcare facilities have patients fill out paperwork, then provide magazines or televisions to occupy their time. Mobile queuing allows people to check in even before arriving at the facility and can update them with the line’s information. Now, we can enable people to find their own ways to occupy the time.  

Imagine how much more relaxed they would be reading a book and enjoying a latte a nearby Starbucks while waiting, rather than pacing the lobby.  

Break up the wait into segments

Like beginning the process early and occupying time during a wait, moving the patient through a streamlined process will give the perception that the visit is progressing.  

Here is a practical workflow example. Enqueue the patient into your lobby, check them in, send them to a prescreening area, and then have them wait for a provider. This process improves the patient’s perception surrounding the wait. It also collects data that can be communicated to the patient. The queuing system also maximizes efficiency by properly prioritizing the waits.  

This not only improves perception; it provides the system with data for communication.

Communicate Accurate Wait Time Expectations

BMC Health Services has shown that “informing patients of wait delays reduces uncertainty and increases tolerance an uncertain wait duration.” Uncertainty increases stress while information lowers it. 

Whether through a traditional lobby or a mobile solution, the right lobby management system calculates wait times and communicates the information to patients. This removes uncertainty which improves the patient’s perception. At the same time, the expectation of the wait is properly understood.  

Remember that Satisfaction = Perception – Expectation, and by improving both, the patient satisfaction will rise.

Proactively explain unexpected delays

An unexplained wait feels longer than an expected one.   

By communicating a queue’s information, either through a mobile device or a lobby television, patients can be made aware of changes to the expected wait. For example, in some circumstances, a delayed prescription while contacting a provider, your queuing system can automatically text the patient. When reasons for delays are known and communicated, perceptions and expectations are managed.  

Along with the other methods, this improves the patient’s satisfaction immensely.  

All of this serves to move patients through your facility while managing their expectations and giving the accurate perception that they are being cared for.  

The right system in place builds patient trust and drastically improves overall satisfaction.  

Even when patients have to wait.

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