Patients and staff alike often dread waiting rooms, but what if we told you it doesn’t have to be that way? An experience that was once limited to bright fluorescent lights and uncomfortable chairs, today’s waiting rooms are designed not only to be more engaging and more comfortable, but also to act as the starting point for crafting an ideal patient experience. Providing a perfect waiting room experience goes beyond design and requires strategic thinking and strong communication.
We’ve previously shared tips for medical office waiting rooms, but this time we sought advice straight from the source. We sat down with one of our clients who, according to the data collected from surveying their patients, excels in this area. We talked through what has worked best (and what has flopped) for them in crafting the ideal patient experience in their waiting rooms.
Communication makes the largest impact.
Cutting down wait times can be challenging, but Heather Kuklinski, Director of Operations at Ortho Central in Norman, Oklahoma, shared that decreasing wait times aren’t what led to an 8% increase in patient satisfaction regarding their waiting room experience.
“Healthcare is unpredictable,” Heather said. “It only takes one late appointment or an emergency to impact the entire day’s schedule.”
Heather shared that Ortho Central prides itself on having great reviews. With wait time consistently being the area of operations that needs the most attention, they work diligently every day to address it.
“We tried for years to change scheduling templates, make the days longer, or change appointment timing, but we would still find ourselves behind schedule,” said Heather.
Ultimately, communication has made the largest impact in improving the patient experience at Ortho Central—and the data show it.
A few years ago, they started using a delay board. Every office location has one behind the front desk that patients can clearly see upon checking in for their appointment. Every provider in the office that day is on the board, and the staff updates the board with the length of time each provider is running behind. Their front desk staff is trained on specific patient communication that varies depending on the length of wait time. Becoming more transparent about these numbers, rather than feeling ashamed of them, has been extremely helpful.
Additionally, it is helpful when a patient can see that there are other providers seeing patients in the office. It can feel frustrating when your appointment is running late and you’re watching others get called back into a room. Giving patients the opportunity to see that there are several providers in the clinic that day can help better align their expectations.
Transparency & flexibility are what patients want.
While you’ll still find comfortable seating along with TVs and free Wi-Fi in Ortho Central’s waiting rooms, giving patients flexibility in how they wait has been extremely effective in increasing patient satisfaction regarding their waiting room experience.
Providers have seen patients’ desire for flexible waiting arrangements continue to grow. What started as ways to keep patients safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, like giving patients the option to wait in their cars for their appointment instead of the waiting room, has turned into a strong preference for many. Heather noted their EHR has a status specifically for “Patient Waiting in Car.”
Say, for example, a provider is running 45 minutes behind. Patients are allowed to check in, and they’re also offered the flexibility to run down the street to grab a coffee or a bite to eat. This has been something Ortho Central’s patients greatly appreciate.
Patients appreciate a proactive approach to issues that arise.
While waiting rooms might be the focus here, it goes hand-in-hand with the overall patient experience. When we asked Heather for additional insight on how Ortho Central improves and streamlines their patients’ experience, she said, “rater8 has done this for us. It brings the patient experience to the forefront every single day.” With automated notifications and streamlined reporting, it is not only top of mind, but also at the top of their inbox.
The real-time feedback from patients means they have the opportunity to intervene and proactively address any issues. Reviews of 3 stars or fewer are automatically sent to four departments within their team: Business Development, Marketing, Operations, and the manager of the relevant area. Heather said that rater8 grants them the power to be proactive.
rater8 takes the guesswork out of it.
Heather herself is a physician assistant with the bulk of her career being clinical work, so she knows personally just how important feedback is to the providers. Each provider is given their reviews and patient feedback either monthly or quarterly. The ability to filter by provider and location allows Ortho Central to easily compile reports. While it is, of course, important to address the rare bad review, it’s also important to reinforce the positive reviews and patient feedback.
With specific questions tailored to each area (e.g., scheduling, radiology) in their patient satisfaction surveys, Ortho Central gains both patient feedback and operational oversight. rater8’s analytics takes the guesswork out of ensuring that each team is doing its best to achieve what makes patients happiest.
Thank you again to Heather Kuklinski, Director of Operations at Ortho Central, for the interview opportunity and for providing valuable insight.