When patients post online reviews of visits with healthcare providers, it is common to see negative remarks about non-medical aspects of the appointment. Complaints range from directions and parking to waiting room comfort, staff attitudes, excessive paperwork and billing snafus. Long wait times – between arrival and actually seeing the doctor – is an especially sore topic. In Binary Fountain’s Healthcare Consumer Insight & Digital Engagement survey, 48 percent of people aged 25 and above selected “wait time” as the most frustrating thing about visiting the doctor.
The most recent survey from Vitals® finds that 84 percent of respondents regard wait time as “somewhat important” or “very important.” The survey reports that close to a third of people have actually walked out on an appointment because of long wait times, and 20 percent have changed doctors over the issue of wait time.
The Vitals survey also reports a correlation between waiting time and the doctor’s average star rating: Five star-rated physicians have an average wait time of 13 minutes, 17 seconds, while one star-rated doctors averaged 34 minutes, 10 seconds. There’s no avoiding the conclusion that wait times matter. And, while providers may put a lot of effort and expense into efficient, timely scheduling, there are times when systems and staff fall short.
Responding to Long Wait Time Complaints
The best approach to a waiting-time complaint is to be prompt about responding. Practices that use in-office patient experience surveys can flag a negative review, which offers a way to quickly catch and address a wait time complaint. Spartanburg Regional Medical Center implemented automated alerts to flag patient reviews that scored a 2.5 or below so they could quickly initiate service recovery. They also analyzed patient experience data across their 96 practice locations and discovered that an overwhelming percent of feedback was about getting timely care. They used the data to determine what locations were top scoring in this category and plan to apply their best practices across their physician practices.
If an infrequent reason for a delay does happen – a cardiologist must attend to a heart attack patient, for example, or an OB is called out to deliver a baby – it is very important to immediately let patients know about the situation and offer to reset the visit.
Remembering that the subtext of many negative reviews is “What are you going to do about this,” the best response to online wait time complaints is one that arrives quickly. Offer sympathy, and a sincere apology. Some practices send a gift card or a fruit basket with their apology. Be sure to acknowledge the patient’s dissatisfaction, and demonstrate that the practice does care. Make sure your response conveys the message that your practice regards every comment and review as an opportunity to do better.
Do you have a story of a successful response to a wait time complaint? Let us know.
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