The Waiting Game…What Works for You at the Doctor’s Office?

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I had never heard of ‘Queing Psychologists’ until I read Software Advice‘s Contributor, David Fried’s interesting article, “Lessons from Waiting Rooms“.  It’s no surprise that we humans don’t like waiting, but did you know that there is some research advising healthcare leaders as well as anyone involved in customer service that we are more concerned about the peception of waiting than the actual time spent waiting. In Fried’s article, he cites research performed at MIT that concluded, “Consumers consider waiting as inactive, wasted or lost opportunity time… Therefore, to attain higher levels of customer satisfaction firms should focus on making customers feel that they are wasting as little time as possible.”

There is a great list of industry examples for  addressing wait time and you can learn more about associated cost and some insights about relevance to the world of healthcare!

  • WiFi at cafe’s
  • Coloring books for kids at restaurants
  • Free coffee at hair salons
  • Shopping options at airports

So how does this translate into the world of healthcare?    Is waiting when you are stressed or sick different and if so how?

In healthcare settings, we know there is always some unpredictability.  A doctor who is held up at the hospital for an emergency or time required to  to teach a patient about a new medicine, obtain a detailed history of a problem, or coax a child into being still while having blood drawn may vary considerably.  On the other hand, having enough staff to meed the needs of a busy medical office, at least most of the time should be somewhat predictable over time.

I don’t know about you, but I simply want my time to be respected.  I can understand some wait time, especially if an airplane needs to be serviced or someone is having an acute medical problem.  Please, please, please don’t try to distract me or make me feel anything.  Ask me what I’d like or need to utilize my time in a way that works for me, create choices that honor a variety of preferences so that I can choose how to spend my waiting time, be honest about expected wait time and do your best to minimize time that I have to spend waiting are ideas that sound good to me.  Also, I’ll be patient about you taking your time with others if I trust you’ll take your time with me.   And keep the waiting area clean!

A newspaper, cup of good i.e. fresh coffee, or a quiet place where I can meditate, read, or write are things that I would find helpful in many situations.  If I’m sick, I just want things done as quick as possible.

What would you like to see happen in waiting areas in healthcare? 

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2 Responses to The Waiting Game…What Works for You at the Doctor’s Office?

  1. Thanks for this article Beth. I think most of us understand that not all medical appointments will be exactly on time. On the other hand, it is disrespectful to not keep patients informed. Case in point….I waited 2 solid hours at an appointment last year. Then I stomped out. Nobody informed the 8 or 9 patients who waited with me that the doctor was at the Hospital for an emergency. It would have been the courteous thing to inform all of us,and offer us the option to stay and wait or to reschedule. Respect is what I want in a doctors office. I respect my doctors and their time, and that should be reciprocated. I complained to that office manager, and now there is a sign in that office that says…”if you have waited more than 15 minutes, please speak to the receptionist” When I waited that 2 hours, I couldn’t get the receptionist to make eye contact!

    • Thanks, Kathy and thank YOU for your story. I applaud your process of giving feedback about your experience to the office manager. And it seems like it helped create a very important change. I also like the phrasing of the office’s invitation to speak-up if waiting longer than 15 minutes! That could go a long way in increasing comfort level for patients and families to be assertive and it also helps to create an explicit norm or clear expectation about waiting time. 15 minutes is reasonable, but more than that isn’t! I get excited when healthcare professionals and consumers are working together like this. Feedback is a wonderful thing!!
      Take care,

What are your thoughts?