15, 30, 45, more? How many minutes can you wait in a doctor’s office? For most of us, waiting at the doctor is one of the most painful parts of the experience. It’s like renewing your driver’s license: being surrounded by strangers in an uncomfortable place can feel miserable. Unlike a public services building, there isn’t even a ticket-taker counting down to your number.
There are many reasons it is hard to wait at the doctor. Doctor waiting rooms are notorious for increasingly agitated people and waiting room anxiety. Let’s look at the psychology happening in a medical waiting room and some measures doctors can take to ease the stress of the situation.
First, here are some general facts about the psychology of waiting at the doctor.
Most Medical Patients Expect to Wait
In a study published in Current Oncology, interviews reflected a direct connection between the expectation that patients would wait and their satisfaction. Patients expect to wait for five, self-identified reasons:
- Patient issues
- Treatment issues
- System issues
- Physician issues
- Other causes, such as traffic or community issues
In other words, most people know they are going to wait and that there are legitimate reasons they have to wait at the doctor.
Patients Will Miss or Leave Appointments
A huge challenge to scheduling and workflow is no-shows. Some patients are so anxious about waiting at the doctor that they don’t even go. Others are so agitated by a long wait, that they walk out. In both of these situations, productivity is negatively impacted.
A Connection Between Physician Care and Wait Time
One survey sampled over 5,000 patients about their patient experience. While long wait times did lead to lower satisfaction, the best predictor of a patient’s experience was physician interaction. The key traits of doctors whose patients were more willing to wait were:
- Willingness to listen
- Explanation of treatment
The overriding theme is that physicians who are conscientious and communicative have better patient satisfaction. Satisfied patients are willing to wait longer for care they find valuable and for doctors who value them.
Waiting at the Doctor
A study published in July 2019 by BMC Health Services Research investigated the underlying issues of waiting at the doctor. This longitudinal study conducted over 130 interviews with patients in two primary care facilities. Three interviews were conducted with each person:
- The first interview happened before the first visit to this medical facility
- The second interview happened within two weeks of the first visit
- The third interview happened between six and 12 months
Wait time was a key metric when patients reflected the quality of service they had received. The study indicates over and over again that a long wait led to a bad score for the clinic. This was measured in actual wait time, not perceived wait time (which other studies have measured).
Numerous variables were important to arriving at that conclusion. The only wait time variable that positively impacted the clinic’s rating was communication. When participants were told about delays, they felt more positive about the wait.
This is an important insight for doctors. Above, we saw an illustration that physician care and attention increase a patient’s willingness to wait. With this study, we see that communication is key to alleviating wait time stress. Lastly, there are a few steps that doctors and administrators can take to improve the actual waiting room in their facility.
How Doctors Can Improve Waiting Rooms
There are some ways that doctors could make wait time better for their patients. They include:
- Reduce actual wait time
- Include child play toys
- Add comfortable seating
An article in one medical journal explains that waiting rooms can be transformed from annoyance to opportunity. This piece recommends five ways a waiting room can increase doctor satisfaction and even contribute to efficiency:
- Validated questionnaires to be completed during pre-consultation time. These screening tools can expedite triage.
- Coaching or question sheets that include questions about patient goals for the appointment. This allows doctors to quickly address issues that are most important to a patient.
- Education materials in the waiting room can contribute to patient well-being and provide productive activities during wait time.
- Decision aids can be provided for various therapies or treatments, relevant to each patient. These would be things like pros and cons for certain medications or treatments, giving patients an idea of what is available and what to discuss with their doctor.
- Wait room managers are staff whose sole responsibility would be to streamline processes and communicate to both medical staff, administrators and patients.
Wait Time Apps to Decrease Frustration
Because expectations are such a key factor of patient satisfaction during a wait at the doctor, wait time apps play a crucial role in offsetting anxiety. DocClocker is an app that provides wait times and appointment updates. There are additional scheduling and communication features. Go here to learn more about what DocClocker can offer and find out if your doctor is using this great tool.
Anderson, Roger T, Fabian T Camacho and Rajesh Balkrishnan. “Willing to wait?: The influence of patient wait time on satisfaction with primary care.” BMC Health Services Research, 2007. Accessed January 31, 2020.
Chu, Holly et al. “The psychology of the wait time experience – what clinics can do to manage the waiting experience for patients: a longitudinal, qualitative study.” BMC Health Services Research, July 8, 2019. Accessed January 31, 2020.
Matthews, M. et al. “Patient-expressed perceptions of wait-time causes and wait-related satisfaction.” Current Oncology, April 2015. Accessed January 31, 2020