Six Strategies for Reducing Wait Times at Your Rheumatology Practice

The number one complaint patients have about their Rheumatologists isn’t insurance, billing, or the quality of care they receive. So, what irritates them the most? You guessed it, the length of time they spend waiting.

A recent study showed that the average time a patient spends waiting for a scheduled appointment is about 20 minutes. For patients who have responsibilities, children to take of or jobs to be at 20 minutes can make or break a person’s day. For patients who are in pain or uncomfortable, 20 minutes can seem like a miserable eternity. For your rheumatology practice, 20 minutes can affect whether a patient decides to return.

To keep your patients happy and returning, it’s essential to work towards reducing wait times as much as possible. Easier said than done, we know. However, there are several things you can do to keep things in your office moving smoothly. By making a few small changes in your process, you can get your patients in and out while also giving them the care they deserve.

Get to the root of the problem.

The first step to fixing a problem is understanding its underlying causes. According to data gathered by the website Software Advice, the main factors that contribute to long wait times are patients arriving later than their scheduled appointment time and patients dealing with unexpected issues upon arrival, such as missing documentation.

No wonder wait times are so hard to control! Most of the time, it’s not the fault of the practice at all, but the patients. But blaming the patient isn’t going to make them feel better. Instead, a good strategy is to find solutions that are within your control.

Help your patients help you.

Sometimes a patient will be running late, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it—traffic jams, sick children, and work emergencies affect everyone. Other times, however, a patient is late because they haven’t planned their day well or simply forgot about their appointment until the last minute.

To keep this from happening, send your patients multiple reminders in the days leading up to their appointment, and use various formats. An email, a phone call, and a text message will help your patients reduce their wait time.

[Is your office ready for texting? If you think so, check out this blog post!]

Stick to a no-show and late arrival policy.

Now’s the time to solidify a policy for dealing with no-shows or patients who arrive late. Set a policy to reschedule after a maximum late arrival time and consider late fees for repeated cancellations or no-shows.

Setting and communicating these policies can help show patients that you value their time as much as they do.

Streamline your workflow. 

Making your practice more efficient has lots of benefits, including reduced patient wait times. This includes high-tech and low-tech solutions like automating vitals collection, improving internal team communication, or simply delegating documentation to other trained staff.

Cut down on last-minute surprises.

Much like helping patients get to their appointments on time, ensuring they have everything they need once they arrive is also an exercise in communication. One thing you can do is send patients any necessary paperwork you’ll need ahead of time and ask them to complete it before their appointment.

If there is something they need to bring with them or a form or number they need, they’ll be able to find it ahead of time, instead of realizing it is missing when they’re standing in your waiting room. Another idea is to implement a patient portal. Patient portals are an excellent way to share and exchange critical information with patients safely and conveniently.

Provide a comfortable waiting area. 

Sometimes, all the tips and tricks in the book may not be enough to keep wait times down. At the very least, make sure your waiting room provides a pleasant space for your patients, so time doesn’t seem to drag on longer. Some ideas for making your waiting room more patient-friendly include:

  • Stock it with magazines and cozy seating.
  • Provide complimentary coffee and tea.
  • Offer free Wi-Fi or TV entertainment.
  • Enhance your space with fresh and calming colors and tasteful décor pieces.

This can go a long way in optimizing patient satisfaction even when the wait time isn’t ideal.

Remember that long wait times don’t just mean unhappy patients, they are a sign that you need to boost your practice’s efficiency or risk losing patients. While wait times are a constant struggle for all Rheumatology offices, a few small changes to your processes can go a long way toward reducing wait times.

For more tips on running a smooth and efficient practice and reducing wait times, check out our blog today!

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  • As a speaker at the first ad hoc meeting of rheumatology practice managers gathered in a single small room at its infancy a decade ago, I’m amazed to see how NORM has blossomed into a high energy organization of depth and professional meetings with parallel break-out symposia between plenary sessions. NORM has truly come of age. This is where the “business” of rheumatology gets learned. The ”guildmanship” for rheumatology practice management is now strong.- Paul H. Caldron, DO, FACP, FACR, MBA, Arizona Arthritis and Rheumatology Associates
  • In a time of demanding changes in the management of medical practices in the US, NORM has been a lifesaver to the community of Rheumatology practices.  NORM has allowed our practice to stay ahead of the many demands of CMS and others payors and has ensured that our practice remains cognizant of new issues that arise in HIPPA compliance, human resources and medical billing to name a few. Sending our Practice Manager to NORM's conferences has been cost-effective and beneficial to our practice because she returns to our office with an abundance of information that otherwise would have taken months to compile. Every Rheumatology practice that wishes to stay on top of emerging issues in practice management should consider sending a member of their staff to NORM's conference.- Michael S. Rosen M.D., Chester County Rheumatology PC
  • Thanks to all those wonderful people in the NORM Network who respond to emails, offering their advice, experience, time, and support ... I haven't even been a member a full year yet and I am amazed at the dedication of everyone who responds to helping via emails and the NORM Organization itself! I have barely had a chance to explore the resources and I have yet to really dive into requests for help still I am silently learning so much and do occasionally offer what I can! Thank you all!- Cheryl Piambino, Kenneth E. Bresky, DO

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