Patients are Customers: An Rx is Needed for Long Wait Times

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Customer Retention
Customer Experience
We've all had to endure long wait times for visits at doctor's offices. And while making an appointment for a medical condition isn't the same as experiencing a delay in service at a bank or an auto repair shop, it can be just as infuriating - sometimes more so. Perhaps this is because so many of us feel undervalued when we're forced to wait while other patients who arrive after we do are seen first. It also doesn't help that the exam room has become a second stage waiting room. I had an experience last week where I didn't even make it to Stage 2.

We've all had to endure long wait times for visits at doctor's offices. And while making an appointment for a medical condition isn't the same as experiencing a delay in service at a bank or an auto repair shop, it can be just as infuriating - sometimes more so. Perhaps this is because so many of us feel undervalued when we're forced to wait while other patients who arrive after we do are seen first. It also doesn't help that the exam room has become a second stage waiting room. I had an experience last week where I didn't even make it to Stage 2.I had a follow-up appointment to go over the results of some blood work that was done. It wasn't a life-or-death situation by any means, it was a routine appointment. I arrived a few minutes early for the appointment and then sat and watched as one patient after another (6 in all) who arrived after me were seen by the physician. I don't have a problem with having to wait for a little while. I've tried to pre-condition myself into accepting that there are in the course of a given day appointments that a doctor might have to accept to see patients who require immediate treatment. But after a while, everyone's patience runs thin.

After more than a half hour of sitting in the waiting room, it occurred to me that I've had a fairly long and consistent history of experiencing protracted wait times with this particular physician, whom I've been seeing for nearly 20 years. After the 5th person after me was called and escorted in, I felt my blood pressure starting to rise. I looked across at another man seated across from me. He had arrived a full 20 minutes after me. I thought to myself, "if this guy is called in ahead of me, I'm outta here."

Ten minutes later, one of the nurses peeked her head out and called the man in. Without hesitation, I got up from my chair, walked over to the receptionist, explained my frustration and informed her that I was leaving. I added that if the doctor wanted to share the results by phone to please have him call me. I still haven't heard from him.

Was I right in storming out? Maybe, maybe not. But how many times have you been in a similar situation where you think to yourself, "my time is valuable, too."

The U.S. healthcare system is undergoing some pretty dramatic changes. This includes greater competition being faced by healthcare insurers, hospitals, and physicians for customers' business as consumers have greater choice over how they are treated - and by whom. As physicians look ahead to the future, they'll need to make sure that they're placing customer experience at the center of their strategies. This includes re-examining current processes and practices that result in long wait times. Or rude administrators. Or examinations that give the appearance of being rushed and impersonal.

I like my primary care physician. He has generally been attentive and I feel like I've received good care from him over the years. But I also feel like I'm sometimes pushed to the end of the line. And that's not a positive experience.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION