8 ways to cut patient wait times for appointments

As the nation's aging population needs more primary care and a physician shortage looms, medical practices need to find ways to cut the wait between scheduling an appointment and seeing a physician, according to an analysis by athenainsight.

The analysis found patients have to wait an average of 19 days for their first appointment, and 20 percent of them wait more than four weeks.

Eight ways to cut patient appointment wait times, according to athenainsight:

1. Find a physician who prioritizes efficiency, access. A physician to champion policies that help improve wait times can make these changes happen. 

2. Analyze average wait times for third available appointments. The average wait time for the first available appointment is not a reliable metric due to how frequently patients cancel or fail to show up. 

3. Optimize scheduling process. Team members can identify inefficiencies in the scheduling process, checking in periodically to speed things up.

4. Learn to predict no-shows. Practices should study data on patients most likely to miss their appointments and find chances to double-book. 

5. Develop more effective appointment reminders. Staff can send patients email, text or phone reminders and analyze the results to determine what patients prefer. 

6. Establish customized patient protocols. Create special protocols for major illness categories, which can bundle nursing procedures, physician orders and lab tests.

7. Use a patient portal. Through these portals, patients can complete their own paperwork, access updates and submit insurance information from home so they are ready when the physician is. 

8. Incorporate telemedicine. Virtual visits help free up physicians' time and removes patients from waiting rooms. It can also cut the average office visit time in half, according to athenainsight. 

More articles on patient engagement:
Accessibility for all — Why removing barriers from web interaction should be a part of your organization's business model
Physicians and patients differ on concept of good communication, study finds
Why healthcare needs 'patient leaders' to make new solutions work

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