How to Make the Most of Patient Waiting Time

We’ve all been there before: sitting in a crowded waiting room, anxiously watching the clock on the wall tick past the time of our scheduled appointment as we absentmindedly flip through an outdated copy of Motor Trend, listening to the monotonous drone of the courtroom program playing on the television in the corner.

Waiting rooms are an inevitable part of the healthcare system. In order to give each patient the time and attention he deserves, doctors cannot stick to a hard-and-fast schedule. However, waiting rooms don’t have to be the mind-numbing vacuums of time they’ve become. Instead, they have the potential to become an extension of the doctor’s appointment, preemptively providing patients with educational information, tips, and guidance before they even see the doctor.

Making Wait Time Something Other than a Waste of Time

1) Realize why wait time is important

Perhaps the most important step to transforming the waiting room experience is realizing the impact of the time a patient spends in the waiting room. The way a patient feels as he leaves the waiting room has an effect on the entire appointment and even his follow-up care.

A negative waiting room experience might stem from a patient feeling bored, frustrated, stressed, or angry while waiting; negative emotions will likely lead to patients being less receptive to feedback and information, more unwilling to comply with the suggested health plan, or wholly dissatisfied with the facility, staff, and experience. On the other hand, a positive wait experience can make patients more agreeable, honest, and compliant, as well as give them a better impression of the facility and staff. They will be more confident in their doctor, health plan, and overall care.

2) Embrace technology

Fifty years ago, a doctor’s office had entire rooms lined with filing cabinets filled with thick charts about each patient. Now, most facilities have transitioned to electronic medical records, accessed in each patient room via computer or tablet. The same technological innovation needs to be applied to waiting rooms.

Printed information – like magazines, newspapers, and brochures – is the old way of conveying information. Technology is the new way to investigate, teach, and learn. Waiting rooms should be upgraded to have screens with all of the information patients will need while in that facility. Facilities can also utilize smartphone apps that will give patients maps, wait time indicators, and general facility information they’ll need instantaneously.

3) Educate, rather than entertain

Instead of aiming to simply distract patients while they wait, fill the room with things that will both educate patients and occupy their time. Rather than playing soap operas or news – which can cause some patients a lot of stress – opt for an educational TV service that’s designed to teach, coach, and inspire patients while they wait for their appointments. Patients will be shown segments that cover everything from medical conditions and cutting-edge medical research to shopping tips and cooking techniques. The educational information will empower patients to care more about their health and become their own advocates for wellness.

Personalize information

Rather than giving waiting patients general information about health and medicine, personalize the information based upon the clinic’s specialty or area of expertise. For example, patients waiting at a dermatology clinic would be most interested in seeing or reading information about skin health, sun exposure, or acne, while patients seeking treatment for Type 2 diabetes would appreciate information concerning the cause of the disease, treatment methods, and diet tips. Because it matters to them at that moment in time, the personalized data will keep the patients’ attention better than general health facts and might even provide them with questions or concerns to bring up with the doctor during their appointment.

The wait for a doctor’s appointment has become an expected part of the healthcare system. Yet with the right technology and planning, old ideas of waiting rooms can become a thing of the past. Waiting rooms can be transformed into personalized education centers, helping patients become more knowledgeable about their health and wellness and assuring that patients come away with a better overall impression of the hospital or clinic.

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