The golden rule of customer service is to be on time. However, sometimes your doctor may get backed up, leaving you with some restless and annoyed patients. Here are five strategies to help ease the wait for your patients:
Communicate. What you don’t want to happen is for patients to start asking each other how long they’ve been waiting. So, the best tactic is to tell the patients when they sign in, and periodically, that the doctor is running late and how much of a delay they can expect. Provide periodic updates. Some patients may choose to reschedule.
Empathize. The crux of customer service is to empathize with the patient and to understand their inconvenience. Even if you’re secretly thinking the office has perhaps filled up with one patient too many, don’t ever act like it’s a bother.
Apologize. An apology can go a long way. One office passes around a snack tray (chocolates, cheese, crackers and juice) when the doctor runs late by more than a specified amount of time (i.e. 20 minutes). The physician agrees to pay for the party tab. Another office writes the patient’s arrival time on a slip attached to each chart, so the nurse or physician can apologize to patients who have had to wait more than a certain amount of time.
Entertain. Don’t expect magazines, books or other activities to appease patients who, after all, just want to be seen. But if delays of 20 minutes or more are commonplace in your practice (the doctor gets held up in surgery or delivering a baby), a little diversion can help make the time go by. One office provides a room with coffee and tea and a large screen TV with educational videos. Perhaps nurses can use the waiting time to teach patients about their condition or answer their questions. Another practice offers a chair massage (for $1 a minute) in a separate room. Yet another practice sets up a room with local and national newspapers, a few old donated computers that provide pay-as-you go Internet access, and gourmet coffee in the corner ($0.35 a cup on the honor system).
Be kid-friendly. Children can get especially antsy when waiting. Provide things for children of different ages to do, but keep infection control in mind. Many offices provide a box of toys. But these can spread infection if they are not washable and cleaned often. An alternative: Hand out individual washable markers and little pads of paper or cartoons to color. Tell the children you want to post their best picture on the wall for an art gallery (then do so). Give older kids crossword puzzles geared to their interests. Develop or find some health-related word scrambles for school-aged kids.