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The Waiting Game - How to Make the Wait Time More Tolerable

According to patients, the most important factor in determining their satisfaction with an eye care practice is how long they have to wait for their exam. It somehow weighs more heavily than the thoroughness of the doctor’s exam, the care demonstrated by the staff, or the quality of the eyewear you sell. This tells us that keeping wait times short is extremely important.

A Jobson Research survey shows that about two-thirds of patients think that a wait time of no more than 15 minutes is appropriate to see an Optometrist. The good news is that of all medical professions, Optometry has the shortest wait times – about 17 minutes on average. On the downside, patients don’t expect to wait as long for an eye doctor as they do for other doctors.

Every office tries to schedule appointments such that the exam chairs will always be full, but patients don’t have to wait long. But it’s not an exact science, and inevitably there will be some delays. Patients who arrive early are content to wait until their scheduled appointment times, but once that time passes, they become increasingly impatient (there’s a name for this: appointment syndrome.) Here are a few ways you can make long waits more tolerable.

- Set expectations. If exams are running late, let patients know that when they check-in. That allows them to readjust their expectations, and they’ll find the wait more tolerable.

- Apologize and Explain. The worst thing you can do if a patient’s appointment is delayed is to pretend it’s not happening. You must acknowledge the delay, apologize to the patient, and explain. Patients will understand if an emergency or another patient had an unexpected problem that required more of the doctor’s time. Patients need to know that you respect the value of their time.

- Reduce perceived waiting time. Boredom makes waiting longer, and keeping patients occupied will reduce complaints. Reading materials, posters, and videos can provide a diversion and even educate the patient about visual conditions and eyewear. Even a decent cup of coffee qualifies as “something to do.”

Shorter waits make for happier patients, but they also help the optical flow. A good rule of thumb is to get the patient to the optical within 45 minutes. Longer than that can make patients feel they don’t have time to make a well-considered eyewear choice. They say they’ll come back later – but the question is, will they?

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