Susan E. Mazer, Ph.D. Blog

Thoughts and ideas on healthcare

Hi, and welcome to my blog! I'm Susan E. Mazer -- a knowledge expert and thought leader on how the environment of care impacts the patient experience. Topics I write about include safety, satisfaction, hospital noise, nursing, care at the bedside, and much more. Subscribe below to get email notices so you won't miss any great content.

Waiting, Waiting, and More Waiting: Is This Quality Care?

June 10, 2016

dreamstime_s_36382852The more we wait, the more we hate waiting. And, when we are not feeling well or with a family member in the ED, waiting reaches the highest point of frustration.

I have written this in the past and I’ll write it again: For every minute that one waits, one also stops engaging in anything but the wait.

William James, an American philosopher and psychologist who was also trained as a physician wrote that “Boredom is spending time focusing solely on time.”

Waiting is the curse of modern day healthcare.

The banking, entertainment, and retail industries are far more advanced in their thinking about waiting than the healthcare industry. Healthcare would do well to learn from them, because the same people who are stuck in line at the bank are also stuck waiting in clinics, emergency rooms, and urgent care centers.

The single concept makes the most sense and has driven the most effective changes in the waiting experience for those industries is: Design the waiting experience into the whole customer experience.

What does this mean for physicians’ offices and clinics? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Prepare them for the wait. Let patients know when to arrive and to plan on waiting 20 minutes prior to seeing the physician. If it is longer, be honest with them.
  2. Help them get ready to see the doctor. When patients arrive, have a way for them to think about and document what they want to tell the doctor. A list of priorities that they can take home after their appointment. This is a good opportunity to enhance the experience with things like cute note pads! And, this is also the place and time for patients to have Internet access — to look up what matters to them.
  3. Provide a good space. Attractive waiting areas win out over unattractive one. Clean, updated, and comfortable, beat out old, worn, and cluttered every time. If possible, include a workstation with a computer so they can access the Internet.
  4. Help them occupy their time. Management Consultant and Author David Maister offered that unoccupied time is longer, unexplained time is longer, unfair waiting is not only longer, but results in frustration prior to the appointment. Positive distractions, like The C.A.R.E. Channel, can help ease those frustrations and set the stage for a good experience.
  5. Update patients on what is happening. This gives them additional support and they might set the reset button on their waiting time.
  6. Make no excuses. Apologize over and over for taking their time and make sure that the physician also apologizes. Over and Over.
  7. Experience it yourself. To truly optimize your efforts, play mystery-waiting person! Walk into a waiting room that is not your waiting room. Sit. Watch. Listen. How is it?

And what about longer-term waiting in a hospital, such as in an ICU or labor and delivery? Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY, recently created a Friends and Family Lounge for its ICU – a healing environment with amenities that address the needs a family may face in a time of trauma.

The new lounge features two private consultation rooms, two enclosed rooms with sleeping couches, a small kitchen with a nutrition station, and a locker room with a shower.

About the Television

The television in the waiting room is a fickle friend. No matter what you broadcast, it will not please everyone and sometimes not anyone.

Nonetheless, the TV dominates the room because it is seen and heard by everyone. It’s content can be controversial, and those who wait make up a diverse and often irreconcilable group.

Keep this in mind as you are choosing what type of programming to broadcast in your waiting areas. And remember, the news of the day is often disturbing and does not help those who are already anxious or suffering.

Without question, expectations rule satisfaction. Therefore, setting expectations in a way that you can exceed them is the best strategy when it comes to waiting.

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