Wait time: it’s the holy grail of consumer expectation in healthcare. Actually, make that any industry. When a restaurant patron waits for more than what he or she feels is a reasonable time to receive their food, they become discontented. When a customer service line puts callers on hold for anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours, they become (justifiably) angry. Similarly, healthcare consumers have certain expectations about how long they should be kept waiting. This is especially true for urgent care patients, who are expecting convenient (read: fast) care.
The current average of waiting 24 days for a doctor’s appointment just doesn’t cut it for urgent care patients. And patients are serious about this; they would pay to skip the wait, according to the survey Solv did with the Urgent Care Association. Our survey also found that patients are willing to shop around; more than half would switch providers and go to a different urgent care center if it meant a shorter wait time.
Since 2015, when the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) went into effect, healthcare facilities have become much more focused on improving their patient’s experience, along with their financial bottom line. According to The Beryl Institute Benchmarking Study, The State of Patient Experience 2017: A Return to Purpose, 26% of respondents have “well established” experience in patient experience management. A 56% majority said their efforts were “making some progress,” while the remaining 18% were in the beginning stages. But as healthcare consumers make increasingly high demands—and put their money where their mouth is, and an influx of patients seek out convenient care over the ER or traditional doctor’s offices, the delivery of value-based care in urgent care centers has become critical. Frankly, for patients to have a better experience, they need to spend less time in the urgent care waiting room and more time with a doctor.
It’s true, however, that while improving patient wait time is a valuable goal, it can be a challenge to tackle in triage environments such as urgent care. That’s where managing patient expectations comes in. While your urgent care center may not be able to keep wait times short all the time, there are a few steps that can mitigate the emotional pain of waiting for your customers.
Estimate the Wait Time for Patients
From our consumer-focused research, we know that people value convenience over almost anything else. While millennials take the lead on this core value, other generations aren’t far behind. With an entire world at their fingertips, consumers are used to demanding something—and receiving it almost instantly.
Let’s take the popular ride-sharing service industry as a prime example. A consumer who needs a ride opens an app on their phone and, with the touch of a button, a screen appears notifying them how long their driver should take to arrive at their set pick up location. This time is a mere estimate—sometimes it takes several minutes longer, depending on traffic and whether the driver can find the location. As the time fluctuates, the consumer is notified on their phone. Occasionally, a driver may cancel the ride. Understandably, this is frustrating to the consumer. However, ride-sharing apps take quick action when this happens and order a new driver immediately.
Urgent care centers can help improve patient experience by giving their patients an estimate of how long they can expect to wait. By tracking metrics such as how long the average appointment lasts and combining that data with how many healthcare providers are on staff on any given day, front desk staff can learn to project an estimated timeframe to share with patients.
Allowing customers to book same-day urgent care appointments online is another easy, effective way to help manage patient expectations about waiting. On average, people who booked an appointment through Solv waited only 8 minutes to see a doctor at urgent care.
Keep p\Patients Updated on Wait Time Changes
While 70% of survey respondents said they’d prefer a confirmed time over waiting in line, we found that false expectations really do lead to disappointment. If you’re going to offer appointments and/or give a time estimate, it’s important that you set realistic expectations. Urgent care patients become less patient when they expect to be seen at a certain time but aren’t. To help with this, urgent care staff can learn how to communicate with patients when something happens that changes their wait time. Similar to how ride-sharing apps order a new driver for their customer, urgent care center staff can work to find solutions that help keep patients from waiting longer than necessary.
When the front desk staff at your urgent care center are communicating estimated wait times to patients, have them give a friendly disclaimer such as, “Your current estimated wait time is 15 minutes. If this changes for any reason, I’ll let you know as soon as possible.” Simply taking the time to communicate that it could change, and giving the patient the courtesy of an update, can mitigate frustration and create a more pleasant experience all around.
Make the Waiting Room Comfortable
Waiting rooms in healthcare facilities are notorious for being cold, harsh, and unpleasant. This spans from physician’s offices to the emergency room and, yes, even to urgent care centers. While initially, it may not seem like a significant priority to make your urgent care waiting room a comfortable place, it should be.
When you’re sick or injured or, worse, your child is sick or injured, having a comfortable place to endure a wait can make a big difference in your mood. You don’t need reclining movie theater seats and a popcorn machine to create this environment. Here are some simple ways to make your urgent care waiting room more comfortable for your patients:
- Set out hand sanitizer and tissues throughout the room—patients will appreciate easy access to these, especially if they’re sick.
- Keep the room at a comfortable temperature—shivering or sweating while you wait for care is not ideal.
- Provide up-to-date, interesting magazines—go for something that is appealing to a wide audience, not a hyper-specific interest group.
- Turn the news off and a cartoon on—watching the news when you have even a minor illness or injury isn’t exactly relaxing. Instead, put on a children’s animated movie. Even if your waiting room is full of adults, they’ll appreciate the entertainment.
- Have a beverage station—a mug of tea or bottle of water can go a long way in helping your customer’s settle in while they wait for care. Go ahead and splurge a bit and get the good stuff; your patients will notice!
Patients have high demands, that much is true. At Solv, we believe they should have high demands and the healthcare industry should rise to the challenge of meeting them. Urgent care centers, especially, are beginning to see an influx of new patients. In the last six months alone, 1,500,000 urgent care visits were booked through Solv. Our data shows that 14% of the consumers who booked those visits would have chosen the emergency room if convenient care hadn’t been an option. This is good news for consumers (Solv saved patients $36 million on healthcare in the past year), good news for the healthcare system (every 1% of unnecessary visits shifted to urgent care provide $1 billion in system savings), and great news for urgent care centers—if they can manage patient expectations about waiting and deliver a high-quality care experience.
Download Solv’s E-Book to learn the secrets of successful urgent care clinics.