20 minutes is the magic number for patient wait times

Physicians, beware: If you're making patients wait more than 20 minutes before seeing you for an appointment, you could be at risk of losing those patients.

Physicians, beware: If you're making patients wait more than 20 minutes before seeing you for an appointment, you could be at risk of losing those patients.

"After 20 minutes, patients think their time is being wasted," Derek Preece, a principal with BSM Conulting, told American Medical News.

In the era of consumer healthcare, it's quite possible that patients who feel physicians don't respect their time will begin thinking about taking their business elsewhere.

Nonetheless, a recent report from consumer health site Vitals suggests that physician practices are improving patient wait times.

Nationwide, the overall average wait time in physician offices decreased slightly last year, to 20 minutes and 15 seconds from 21 minutes the prior year.

Broken down by state, wait times for patients in Alaska were the shortest in the nation, at 16 minutes and 28 seconds. Still, Vitals pointed out that the shortest state-based patient wait time increased more than a minute over the prior year. The previous winner was Wisconsin, which came in second in 2012.

At between 15 and 16 minutes, wait times for patients in Denver, Colordao, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, were the shortest among major cities, according to Vitals.

Vitals obtains patient-reported wait times from its database of more than 870,000 doctors nationwide.

Physician practices that are subjecting patients to wait times longer than 20 minutes may want to try the following tips on cutting down wait times from Fierce Practice Management:

  • Use doctors' allotment of new appointments for new patients, and delegate follow-up appointments to other staff members.

  • Keep physicians and staff on track with regular team meetings.

  • Developing contingency plans to handle periods of high demand.

If patients become increasingly frustrated with long wait times, expect patient demand for telemedicine services to grow. The ability to communicate with doctors online and remotely holds obvious appeal to patients, and telemedicine's cost-cutting potential makes it desirable in health policy circles.

“For primary care physician, it can be a great way to recruit and retain patients,” Jonathan Linkous, chief executive officer of the American Telemedicine Association, told Medical Economics earlier this year. “Think about how many people wouldn’t go to a bank that doesn’t have an ATM.”


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