Delays are a major source of patient complaints in registration areas, but they often are out of the control of patient access employees. To increase satisfaction:
- Tell patients the reason for the delay.
- Update patients at least every 15 minutes.
- Suggest patients run an errand, or offer to reschedule.
Patient volume increases suddenly, clinical areas are running behind, or the registration area is unexpectedly understaffed.
Any of these common scenarios can result in a longer-than-expected delay for patients waiting to register. “Clearly, long waiting time will cause patient dissatisfaction and tarnish the image of the facility,” says Selena R. Wynn, CHAA, a patient access supervisor at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta.
At Albany (NY) Medical Center, delays occur if the department is unexpectedly short-staffed or volume suddenly surges, says Brenda Pascarella, CHAM, associate director of patient access. “Monitoring patient volumes can help us better plan our staffing for each registration area,” Pascarella says. In addition, managers cross-train staff, which allows registrars to cover multiple areas if needed.
“Our primary goal is to contribute to a positive patient experience,” Pascarella says. “If we can keep patient throughput smooth, we will see fewer patient complaints.” If a patient does complain about a delay, he or she receives a phone call from a manager or supervisor. “This is a great way to complete service recovery,” says Pascarella.
Often, patients have no idea why they’re waiting so long, which adds to their frustration. “If kept informed about delays, patients can definitely walk away with a high level of satisfaction,” says Wynn. Here is how Emory Healthcare’s patient access department informs patients:
• Standard procedures are used to communicate with patients.
Patient access employees keep patients well-informed of any delays, the reason for delays, and update them at least every 15 minutes. “Slightly exaggerate the expected wait time,” advises Wynn. “If it’s going to be 10 minutes, estimate 20.”
• A greeter makes patients and family comfortable while they wait.
“The greeter offers beverages and magazines, to give patients something to do while they wait,” says Wynn.
• Employees offer to reschedule the patient for later that day or another day if a delay exceeds 15 minutes.
“Some patients may choose to wait, but it returns control to the patient,” explains Wynn.
• If a delay is expected to be long, they encourage the patient to run an errand and provide them a time to return.
“Ask for their cell phone number so if a change in the schedule occurs, you can notify them,” says Wynn.
• The established a service recovery program.
“Empower all staff to meet patients’ needs when things go wrong and waits become excessive,” says Wynn. “Keep a service recovery toolkit, stocked with gifts, readily available for use when an unexpected problem causes patients to wait longer than they should,” she says.
Staff members offer patients meal tickets or parking vouchers, and they use this scripting: “We take pride in ensuring our patients come first and are committed to providing the highest level of care. Please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience you may have experienced. We are going to (provide you with a meal ticket to use in our cafeteria/take care of your parking expense today). It’s just a small token of consideration that you have been inconvenienced at your visit today.”
• They identify someone who is specifically responsible for communicating delays to patients.
This job could belong to registrars, nurses, or medical assistants, for example. “Without clear expectations, updating patients on delays will get lost among other work responsibilities,” says Wynn.
• They ensure that the back of the office regularly communicates physician delays to the front desk staff.
“Oftentimes, delays aren’t communicated to patients in the waiting area because that information isn’t communicated to the front of the practice,” says Wynn.
- Selena R. Wynn, CHAA, Patient Access Supervisor, Emory Healthcare, Atlanta. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.