One of the most vexing problems for practices is reducing wait times while not creating chaos in the office, pay overtimes or increase stress on the physicians.
Ryu and Lee in the NEJM point to the long wait time being seen by many physicians as a badge of honor indicating how busy their practice is.
Athenahealth recently reported data based upon 4.2 million first appointments scheduled in 2016 with 13,000 providers and concluded that wait times (WT) varies significantly depending on the physician's specialty.
New patients, in their research, waited an average of 2.7 weeks after a call for their first appointment. 20% waited more than 4 weeks, 60% were seen within 2 weeks and 10% were seen the same day. Orthopedic appointments were made the fastest, an average of 13 days.
As we know some of the medical specialties like Rheumatology (44 days), Neurology (32 days), GI (26 days)are the hardest to schedule your patients with.
Well, your % of 'no shows' is going to go up resulting in an inefficient office and revenue loss. Patients waiting > 4 weeks are most likely to either not show or cancel. In addition, Ryu & Lee point out that longer wait times increase the chance of an ED visit or inpatient utilization by a factor of 8 and "each 5-to-8-day reduction in waiting time would lead to a $1-million to-$ 2-million reduction in costs."
The good news is that MGMA reports that among 1,100 medical practice leaders, 49% said their practice has changed its processes in the past year to reduce patient wait times and 22% said they are currently working on new processes.
MGMA also reports that wait times have improved by five minutes from last year, down to an average of 20 minutes total between the waiting area and the exam room. They also found that Physician-owned practices are able to see patients sooner ( up to 2 days sooner) than hospital-owned practices, almost 3/4 practices conduct surveys of patient satisfaction and less than 5 percent of claims being denied on first submission.
Another study reports "wait times are costly for physicians, with 1 in 5 patients saying they have switched doctors because of long wait times and 30% of patients reporting they have left a doctor appointment because of a long wait." (Finnegan, 4 ways to reduce wait times for patient appointments).
Many solutions have been proposed. No one solution can or will fix all the problems permanently. Double booking can only take one so far.
Technology is an area, which is being experimented with a lot. Patient portals, emailing, texting and automated systems.()
Opening up more appointment slots with expanding hours.
Efficiency is best planned if there is data on many aspects of patient mechanics and data on all processes in the office.