There aren't a ton of places where customers will tolerate ridiculously long wait times. I can stomach an hour or so in line for the Raging Bull at the local Six Flags, just for the cheap thrill of the 208-foot drop. And I'd probably camp out over night to get a burger from Chicago's legendary Kuma's Corner (all named after heavy metal bands, and piled high with everything from bourbon-soaked pears to deep fried chilies). But the doctor's office, emergency department or an imaging center? Not so much.
As hospitals offer their services in an increasingly more customer-oriented fashion — and patients become savvier about what care should and shouldn't look like — wait times are turning up in leaders' crosshairs. At a recent roundtable discussion held by H&HN, downtime was on the minds of many executives in attendance. Patients spend an average of about 22 minutes waiting to see their doctor at clinics, according to Press Ganey, and as downtime goes up, patient satisfaction dips, coupled with an increased risk of infection.
Some are taking their frustrations to extremes and just walking out on appointments out of frustration. In one case, a lawyerly patient sent a bill to her physician for the wasted time, Christina Dempsey, chief nursing officer of Press Ganey, told me by phone recently. As one speaker said at a conference I covered in December, this behavior could be a "game changer," and hospitals should take notice.
"I think we're a much more health care-savvy community, and we've seen with all the social media that we like, as a society, immediate gratification. I don't think the health care consumer is any different," Dempsey says. "However we can minimize that time from arrival to provider or bed or whatever the destination, we need to do that, and that is the expectation from the consumer."
Hospitals are finding innovative ways to try and meet those expectations. As we wrote in our May edition, some, such as Good Shepherd Medical Center in Texas, are viewing their EDs as the "front porch of the medical neighborhood," and carefully cataloguing each patient who arrives. There, clinicians perform a medical screening, determine a transition path, and try to connect them with a primary care physician if they don't have one — rather than just keeping the nonurgent visitors sitting for hours.
Whatever your approach to dropping downtime, you can usually trace the problem back to patient flow, Dempsey says. "Rarely, is a wait, for example, in the ED solely an ED problem," she says. "Usually, when you see long waits, it's an organization-wide problem, and you can't fix it by focusing on one particular area. When you want to look at organizations that are making a difference in waiting time, it's those who have understood that they have to tackle it as a system-wide problem, not just a department problem."
The best place for any organization to start is digging into the data, she says, and adopting a collaborative approach to finding solutions. Since it's an organizational issue, make sure you have involvement from the C-suite, she says, but also include clinicians in the process so they can commit to any changes from the start. While some stoppage will always be part of the health care visit, Dempsey doesn't see why hospitals can't eventually eliminate all controllable wait times.
What's your hospital doing to try and keep its patients happy in this regard? Where does this issue rank on your list of priorities? Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, and watch for a story about this topic in the June issue, along with future coverage of this topic further down the line.