Reducing Patient Waiting Times: How Patient Wait Times Affect Your Bottom Line
Medical enterprises of every kind, and the people who frequent them, are struck by a difficult problem that has persisted for millennia. It is extremely difficult to minimize the time patients spend waiting for care. Everywhere from walk-in clinics and physicians’ offices to emergency rooms, providing medical service leads to waits. Just survey the United States’ medical landscape to see evidence of this. According to the Washington Post, more than 22 million emergency room visits in the United States in 2017 required more than an hour of waiting.
The average waiting time in the healthcare industry is incredibly high due to several key factors. One is that providing medical care is time-consuming and not something that should be rushed. Another factor is that there is a massive global shortage of healthcare workers. According to the University of Southern California, a substantial global staffing shortage in the healthcare industry is projected to reach a 15 million deficit by 2030.
Regardless of the cause, an extended patient waiting time is a significant source of frustration. Customers arrive at their appointments or walk-ins hoping for fast service and effective medical treatment. When they don’t receive that, they will inevitably become dissatisfied. If enterprises aren’t taking that problem seriously, they will notice an impact on their bottom line.
If customers are unhappy with the average waiting time for a medical business, this can pose problems for enterprises. All organizations’ bottom lines are tied to the happiness of their customers, and this is the case in the medical industry as well. That is why many medical offices have implemented solutions like QLess, software designed to reduce wait times and empower more positive waiting experiences.
Below, we’ll explore the impact of a long or short patient waiting time on a medical business’s bottom line and uncover how technology can enable a more efficient process with fewer long waits.
Are Wait Times Tied Into a Business’s Bottom Line?
Ideal patient outcomes are that customers enter, receive prompt treatment, and exit better off than they came in. This is a reality that is hard to accommodate, and in some situations, it is just about impossible. Wait times reflect imbalanced supply and demand, where demand for medical attention exceeds an organization’s ability to supply it quickly. But what many organizations are wondering is whether a long average wait time can damage their business.
The answer to this question requires looking at several key factors. Below, we’ll dive into why consistent long waits can threaten a medical business’s sustained success.
The Impact of Patient Waiting Time on the Customer Experience
When customers arrive at a hospital, primary care center, or any other medical center, how much of a factor is the wait time on their customer experience? The answer to this will be no surprise to most, but customers are heavily fixated on waits and delays. While providing effective service is the most important thing, it might not be the primary consideration for most customers. According to a study by the Journal of Medical Practice Management, 96% of all customer complaints stemmed from customer service, not medical service, with delays and disorganization being two of the three most commonly cited complaints.
Delays and long lines are a natural impediment to a positive customer experience, one that the average consumer will have very little tolerance for. Today’s consumers are heavily driven by convenience. According to data from PWC, 80% of Americans agree that speed and convenience are among the most important components of the customer experience. If a customer arrives at a healthcare facility and is greeted with an extended patient waiting time, this will be a problem. No matter how effective the quality of care is, the patient experience is just as important to customers, and if it becomes inconvenient for customers to access the service they came for, they might not stick around.
Long waiting times are a consistent threat in the healthcare industry, leaving patients deeply unhappy and can even put them at risk. There is something very impersonal about a long wait in a waiting room, hoping to hear your name called. Even if enterprises feel like they have no other options, they must consider removing this aspect of the customer experience.
Negative Experiences Yield Decreased Loyalty
There can be no question that a long wait drains the customer experience. But for many enterprises, this can seem like background noise. However, dissatisfied patients are not to be ignored. If the patient experience is poor, it will negatively impact healthcare organizations’ bottom lines. The more time patients spend waiting in line, the lower patient satisfaction scores will be. And the more dissatisfied customers a healthcare organization has, the less likely it is that customers will return. A decline in customer loyalty can become a huge problem for healthcare organizations.
According to Super Office, one in three consumers will leave a brand they love after just one bad experience. And 92% of consumers will leave a brand after two or three bad experiences. Customers don’t provide much leeway for businesses, and the medical industry is hyper-competitive. Your customers have options, and any time they choose to leave, that is a significant issue.
Customers will not hesitate to leave if the patient waiting time starts to climb. According to a QLess study of 250 US adults, 68.9% of respondents would patronize a competitor’s business if it had noticeably shorter wait times. Customers are loyal to brands only if they can consistently provide fast, effective service, and that is true in the healthcare industry as well.
Healthcare organizations are still businesses, and customer loyalty is an important part of success in every business. According to Think Impact, it costs around 1/6th of the amount to retain an existing customer compared to acquiring new ones, and just a 5% increase in retention can drive 25-29% increases in revenue. Enterprises should not overlook just how important keeping their customers happy is.
Happy Customers, Thriving Enterprises
While the negative impact of unhappy customers is significant, so is the positive impact of happy customers. Healthcare companies can make their customers happier by reducing the average time their patients have to wait. Addressing one of patients’ most common complaints about the healthcare industry will have that effect. And once patients are happy, enterprises can start to see why a positive patient experience is important to sustained success.
Cutting down on the average patient waiting time is an important first step to a positive patient experience. According to eTactics, 43% of patients say waiting is the most frustrating part of a doctor’s visit. Removing this significant frustration will put a pin in one of the most common causes of customer frustration.
If you manage to provide a seamless, delay-free experience for customers, they will notice, and they will respond. One of the big benefits of this is that businesses will get stronger online reviews, which is a huge upside. According to Practice Builders, 57% of patients use the internet to find their providers, and one of the first things customers look at when browsing online for businesses is reviews. Strong reviews have a big impact on swaying customers’ opinions and are a cost-free form of marketing that is incredibly important in today’s digital-driven market.
Happy customers are a form of promotion in itself for healthcare organizations. People love to share their experiences, and if you provide positive, friction-free healthcare experiences, you will increase customer loyalty and see the benefits of word-of-mouth and online reviews. Long appointment wait times are a huge cause of customer dissatisfaction, and eliminating this problem will yield happier patients.
Reducing the Average Patient Waiting Time Through Technology
If enterprises find that their average patient waiting time has hit concerning levels, there are options. Whether an outpatient clinic or pediatrician’s office, healthcare organizations have tools that can completely transform their queuing processes, ensuring customers’ wait times are faster and more pleasant. With the invention and rise in popularity of queue management technology, organizations have a tool to ensure quick and efficient customer waits.
Queue management technology for the healthcare industry gives organizations an effective tool for overseeing patient flow. These software solutions are installed as part of a healthcare organization’s digital infrastructure and can be accessed by patients through their phones, desktops, or an on-site kiosk. They enable customers to virtually enter queues that are digital rather than in-person. The healthcare professional overseeing the office administration can manage the digital queue to empower smoother waits with fewer bottlenecks.
QLess is the leading healthcare queue software that organizations around the country use to take the wait out of waiting rooms and streamline the healthcare experience. Below, we’ll explore some of the crucial ways this software reduces the average patient waiting time and creates more efficient enterprises.
More Efficient Calendar Management
The average healthcare organization sees a significant flow of different customers on a daily basis. Each organization has different check-in and calendar management systems, depending on whether they allow walk-ins or are entirely appointment-based. Most organizations’ calendars are set before the day begins, and altering them is very difficult. If a customer doesn’t show up at their expected arrival time, this can cause delays and bottlenecks that lead to longer waits for other patients. With a flexible calendar management system that is more efficient, enterprises can move past this problem and ensure more effective adjustments to changes.
QLess has calendar management features that are designed to improve the visibility of staff schedules and give them increased control over the customer calendar. This will, in turn, improve efficiency and reduce the wait times for important healthcare services.
When customers schedule their appointments, it is automatically uploaded to the QLess calendar. The calendar is color-coded and adjustable, and can be organized according to the day of the week, time of the day, appointment type, and the staff in charge of the appointment. This makes it easier for staff to be aware of everything on their schedule for the rest of the day. There are fewer delays caused by disorganization and a lack of preparation, as the schedule is clearly laid out for employees.
The flexible calendar also enables simplified administration to reduce downtime caused by late patients or appointment no-shows. The calendar allows enterprises to move appointments around, so if a customer is late to their appointment, they can simply be moved out of their slot and into the next one. If a customer no-shows, staff can cancel their appointments and move every customer in the queue up a spot. This means fewer delays caused by preventable issues. With flexible calendar management, healthcare offices can prevent delays and ensure improved efficiency that reduces actual wait times.
An Empowered Waiting Experience
We’ve established that customers sincerely dislike waiting in long lines. The feeling of being cramped in a waiting room, particularly when patients are injured or ill, is a deeply unpleasant one, and with QLess and virtual queue technology, organizations can render physical queues redundant. Instead of the standard check-in system, where patients enter, input the exact time they arrived on a clipboard, and wait in a waiting area to hear their name called, QLess offers a virtual waiting experience that is more pleasant for customers and efficient for businesses.
For patients, sitting in waiting areas can be a distressing experience. That is why the ability to eliminate the waiting room is so exciting. With QLess, healthcare offices can benefit from remote join features that enable customers to enter virtual queues without the need to be physically present until they are at the front of the line.
Customers join the virtual queue by checking in through a link or an app on their phone. They are then entered into a virtual lineup according to their appointment time. They can see how many people are in front of them and a forecast of the projected patient waiting time. The line looks and functions like a real line, moving up according to real-time changes like appointments finishing and beginning. But customers don’t need to be physically present until the very end when it is time for their appointment to begin, so patients can wait wherever they please, track the wait time, and head to health centers only when their appointment is set to begin.
Having the queue be virtual improves the waiting experience and can reduce waiting times. The QLess digital queue management system helps automate and control the queue using machine learning technology. It places customers in the queue according to pre-configured policies that healthcare offices choose and can blend walk-ins with appointments. It removes human error from the waiting process and sends customers updates and messages as they move through the line to reduce downtimes between appointments.
Collect Patient Waiting Time Metrics to Fuel Improvements
If enterprises struggle to control their wait times and notice many customer walkaways and negative reviews, the first step towards improvement is recognizing problem areas. Finding useful data can be incredibly difficult with the standard method of check-ins and physical queues. This is because health personnel check-ins are either done through paper sign-ins or on simple systems that only keep track of when patients signed into the hospital facility and when they left. With a queue system dedicated to reducing patient waiting time, enterprises have a tool that can track various important metrics that will give organizations the tools they need to improve efficiency.
QLess is equipped with business intelligence tools that provide healthcare organizations with high-value patient experience data. Because customers check in through the app, QLess can automatically track an array of metrics and report them back to enterprises in graphs and charts that illustrate important micro-trends. QLess provides information to organizations, including median patient waiting time, patient no-show percentage, employee utilization, and more.
This data can be broken down based on the time of day, the employee who handled the appointment, and more. This allows healthcare offices to gain insights into their biggest patient flow problems and identify what might be causing them. If certain employees tend to have more delays on their shift or certain appointment types run for a longer time period than expected, identifying these issues is how healthcare offices can make the necessary changes to solve them.
The more informed your healthcare office is on its key problems, the better equipped it is to solve them. Business intelligence offers healthcare organizations the information they need to fully understand how to improve customer flow, which can then increase their bottom line. According to Finances Online, a business implementing business intelligence solutions can experience 127% ROI within three years. With QLess, offices can see revenue grow by implementing data-driven changes that increase efficiency and lead to improved customer flow.
Communication with Staff for Improved Transparency
Part of what customers dislike about the waiting experience is the lack of transparency. At most health facilities, customers check in and sit down to wait for their appointment. It can take five minutes or two hours, but usually, there is very little communication between customers and staff between when they arrive and when their appointment begins. This can be a frustrating, alienating experience, as patients simply sit and wait with no clear end in sight. Emergency departments and other healthcare offices would see an uptick in customer satisfaction by improving their communication to better meet the needs of modern customers.
QLess has bi-directional communication features to open up two-way digital communication between staff and customers. This can have a marked impact on both efficiency and customer satisfaction. On the customer end of things, patients will benefit from the transparent nature of the QLess platform. They can message staff for inquiries and updates, check the patient waiting time on the queue platform, and even let health workers know if they are running late. They will receive communication from staff which shows up on SMS, which is how most customers prefer to be reached. According to a QLess study, 55.6% of study participants stated they prefer receiving business updates via text messages.
For businesses, the ability to connect with customers can help improve efficiency and decrease the average patient waiting time. More open communication with customers will enable enterprises to have fewer appointment no-shows and unexplained late customers, leading to fewer delays. With QLess, enterprises can message customers and send appointment reminders directly to their phones. According to Klara, text appointment reminders reduce no-show rates by 38%. The fewer no-shows there are, the fewer bottlenecks caused by schedule changes there will be.
Open communication is something many patients emphasize as a key part of their healthcare experience, and it also can increase efficiency and average satisfaction scores. The more transparent and up-front communication is, the better it is for enterprises and their customers.
Can Queue Management Elevate a Bottom Line?
Implementing a patient flow management solution can seem like a significant change for many healthcare organizations. The waiting room has been a long-entrenched part of the healthcare experience throughout its modern existence, and most organizations can scarcely picture an operation without it. But the reality is that a long average patient waiting time has long been a thorn in customers’ sides and one that disconnects them from the organizations treating them. For a healthcare organization trying to stand out in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, a solution that reduces waits and improves the waiting experience will go a long way.
The QLess platform is designed to help healthcare organizations improve their bottom lines by increasing efficiency. Reducing the average patient waiting time at a medical center helps organizations in two crucial ways. First, improving efficiency leads to increased customer intake and the ability to better oversee a calendar. QLess includes calendar management features and machine learning-powered queue management solutions that lead to faster lines. Reduced waits also lead to increased customer satisfaction, which improves customer loyalty and leads to fewer walkaways.
Healthcare organizations operate as businesses, and the happiness of their customers is incredibly important to their sustained success. Long wait times are a notorious contributor to customer frustration, and with QLess, offices can trim wait times, which will, in turn, elevate their bottom line.