The waiting room is often the place where patients spend the majority of their time during a visit to their doctor. According to a Software Advice survey of 5,000 U.S. patients, the average time patients wait before seeing a doctor is 20 minutes, and sometimes this wait can be a lot longer.
How are patients spending their time in the waiting room?
A recent study conducted by CDMiConnect surveyed 3,000 adult patients having over 200 health conditions and found the following:
The survey also examined the reasons why patients were searching the Web in their doctor’s waiting room. Most people were searching for information about their symptoms trying to get information they could use to engage in a discussion with their healthcare provider. After their time searching the Web in the waiting room, 78% of patients reported feeling more confident about their upcoming visit, and 82% felt more prepared to talk to their doctor.
Although patients are looking for health information, much of what is available on the internet is not reputable, or can be written in hard to understand medical jargon. Many patients have trouble finding even basic health information that they can take to their doctor. The National Institutes of Health reported that over 50% of the adult U.S. population has health literacy issues. Not only that, when people do locate information they can understand, what they learn can make them feel overwhelmed, according to policy journal Health Affairs.
Given that 72% of patients search for health information online — in or out of the waiting room — it makes sense for practices to take advantage of this and become an easy source of information for their patients.
Below are some ways to optimize patients’ time in the waiting room.
Digital check-in. Using digital check-in puts the patient in the system immediately, with opportunities to educate them specific to their health condition — or even the reason for their visit — by sending them information as soon as they complete the check-in.
Goal setting. While patients are waiting, have them set appointment goals by filling out a goal sheet, and making a priority agenda. Doing this before seeing the doctor can help patients verbalize the reason for their visit, and help doctors tailor the visit to the patients’ needs. This saves time for everyone.
Disease-specific educational materials. These can be emailed to patients in the waiting room, or they can be accessible via an app. If patients can access educational materials before the exam, it leaves more time for communication and shared decision making.
Decision aids. If a patient is in the process of deciding whether or not to use a therapy or have a procedure, making sure that they have enough information about it can help them feel more confident questioning a prospective treatment or procedure, and give them an idea of what additional information they will need to ask their doctor for.
Patients are going to spend time in the waiting room regardless, and giving them the information they need, while they wait, can help them be better informed, confident patients and make their visit more satisfying and streamlined.