Q&A: "Acceptable" patient waiting times

March 6, 2009

Are there any guidelines on what is an acceptable wait time for patients before seeing their physician?

Q: Recently, a number of patients have begun complaining to me about excessive wait times. Are there any guidelines on what is an acceptable wait time for patients before seeing their physician? Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with this problem?

A: "Acceptable" wait times (if such a thing exists) are 15 minutes in a waiting room and 7 minutes in an exam room. Note that both of these numbers refer to minutes after the scheduled appointment time; early arrival doesn't count.

First you must accurately diagnose the problem. It could be related to any number of factors, including physician tardiness or late arrival, overscheduling, physicians being called into the hospital for inpatients, inaccurate scheduling, adding unplanned services to prior visits, and rooming delays because of the patient-registration process.

Send your practice management questions to mepractice@advanstar.com (please include your regular postal address). Answers to our readers' questions were provided by Judy Bee of Practice Performance Group in La Jolla, California; Keith Borglum, CHBC, of Professional Management and Marketing in Santa Rosa, California; and Alice G. Gosfield, JD, of Alice G. Gosfield and Associates in Philadelphia.