Wait times probably are the most common complaint about registration. The issue seems simple at first — somebody waited longer than he or she wanted to. However, there often is more to it.

“What patients think of the registration experience can be subjective,” says Elena Gonzalez, assistant director of patient experience at Stanford Children’s Health. A 10-minute wait seems much longer when anxiously waiting for test results, or if you are waiting with a crying baby. There are a few common issues involving complaints related to patient access:

Patients complain about wait times, but it is really something else they are upset about. Sometimes, a person mentions a long wait, but their anger seems out of proportion. “Their concern is actually rooted in something else,” Gonzalez observes.

Often, people do not complain about wait times the same day, or even weeks afterward; they do it when the bill arrives. “We listen for clues as to whether the concern about wait time is being highlighted due to financial reasons,” Gonzalez says.

If it becomes clear that the wait time complaint is really about the bill, staff switch gears. After apologizing for the wait, they take the opportunity to fully explain the charges. They encourage the caller to apply for financial assistance.

Other wait time complaints stem from disappointment with a subpar clinical encounter. “Wait times appear to be much longer when patients feel as though they were not listened to during the visit,” Gonzalez explains.

The opposite also is true. There may be extensive delays in registration, but the patient enjoyed such a great visit with the clinician that he or she cheerfully ignores it. “They mention that they have no problems waiting because they know the provider is listening to the other patients just like they have been cared for,” Gonzalez says.

Prevent wait time complaints with some proactive communication from the front desk staff on any expected delays. “Staff provide a gift card to our cafeteria or a coffee card so they can grab something while they wait,” Gonzalez says.

Notably, the token gift cards have received mixed reactions. “Patients and families can sometimes become more upset if it is not done in conjunction with a sincere acknowledgement of the concern,” Gonzalez cautions.

The cards are meant to acknowledge that the person was inconvenienced. More important to patients seems to be the demeanor of registrars. “We hear comments about how the friendly and smiling faces at the desk help ease stress and anxiety,” Gonzalez adds.

Patients complain on social media. Some patients do not tell anyone at registration they are angry. Instead, they publicly post their dissatisfaction. Usually, such posts center on hospital bills; occasionally, there are mentions of registration.

Stanford Children’s Health Office of Patient Experience invites all social media posters to contact them to discuss things further. Not all do so, but staff try to collect enough information from the post to identify the patient and/or where the incident in question took place. Then, says Gonzalez, “we reach out to the leadership of that service area.”

A recent post gave the provider name and date of the incident. That was enough for staff to pinpoint the registration location where the patient had checked in. “Many times, staff can recall the incident that took place and provide us with the details. They were able to do so for this incident,” Gonzalez reports. Then, patient experience staffers contacted the family and resolved the matter.

All complaints, including those involving registration, are logged in a database. “This allows us to analyze if there are any trends that continue to present themselves in a specific area,” Gonzalez says.

Patients complain about long wait times for appointments. This may come as no surprise to revenue cycle leaders. Certain clinics have few providers and high volumes. “It is not surprising to hear that multiple patients voice concerns with the amount of time they have to wait to get in to see the provider,” Gonzalez observes.

Staff explain that there is high demand to see a specific provider, which means long waits for the first appointment. For the most part, patients and families are understanding. Staff offer other options (e.g., different providers or different locations) and allow the family to decide. “To provide services to more patients — unfortunately, this means there may be longer waits,” Gonzalez says.