I find two common descriptions of our professional practice to be both amusing and confusing. We refer to what we do as “private practice.” The “practice” part indicates that we are still practicing our craft, working toward some mystical goal of being competent. Supervision and training toward this goal are not defined, other than licensure and the CEUs necessary to maintain it.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe what we do as “private business” or “private patient care,” both of which are accurate descriptors. In reality, patients and referral sources probably don't care about or pay attention to the wording, as it is a part of our tradition.
For the past year, our clinic has been experimenting with putting the emphasis on the words “private patient care” through our website and social media channels. The goal is to add better meaning to what we really do as we measure patients’ attitude toward us in scheduling, intake, and after evaluation and treatment as we ask them to rate our business and performance through Yelp.
The second phrase we often use is “waiting room.” Taken as it is, this implies that the patient will be waiting regardless of their appointment time. In the medical world, with double and triple booking being so common, this is probably an accurate descriptor.
The pain of waiting is most commonly addressed by the medical staff through having various magazines available. But these days, most patients ignore the magazines and use their smartphones while waiting.
Personally, I consider waiting to be an insult and ignorance of the value of my time. If I wait for more than 30 minutes past my appointment time at a doctor's office, I pass on the appointment, let the office know of my displeasure, and reschedule (or find another physician who might be more respectful of my time).
This tactic usually catches someone's attention, but this type of situation is not something we want in our offices. To minimize the problem, consider the following suggestions:
If a patient has waited for more than 10 minutes, the office staff should inform him or her that there is a delay, describe the issue, and offer to reschedule. This same strategy can be accomplished with a small sign that says, “If you have been waiting for more than ___ minutes, please let us know.”
We have also experimented with providing incoming patients with an iPad that can be used to fill out forms, view patient education materials, or for entertainment. This form of immediate engagement also adds to the high-tech image we want for our office and minimizes the perception of waiting.
Another strategy is to look at any waiting as an educational or marketing opportunity. We use a 56-inch wall-mounted monitor in our waiting room, which is fed by a plug-and-play server. The audiologist or an assigned staff member controls the display of this social wall—direct feeds from The Hearing Journal, content from our hearing aid manufacturer's website, and pictures shared by our staff and patients.
This wall is intended to be both educational and interactive, and I've had patients ask me to delay their appointment because of their fascination with the wall. These walls, incidentally, are readily available online.
Slight changes in how we describe ourselves and mitigate patient wait time can seem like very small issues. However, these changes can and do influence how we are perceived by our patients and help us provide them with the best possible service in a high-tech and competent environment with minimal waste of their time.
Thoughts on something you read here? Write to us at HJ@wolterskluwer.com