Each quarter, we measure the metrics and drill down on the data to bring you relevant information specific to the dynamic urgent care industry. In our second issue of Urgent Care Quarterly, we looked at visit volume year over year to identify trends and insights. In our current issue, we’ll explore wait time and its impact on patient satisfaction. We provide data today, so you can make better decisions about tomorrow.
Wait Time Trends and Their Impact on Patient Satisfaction
In a world where consumers of all kinds are accustomed to services delivered on-demand, healthcare providers are being called to adjust their approach to patient care. With more healthcare alternatives available, patients can choose providers based on convenience, quality of care, and other personal expectations. There may be no other healthcare segment as deeply affected as the urgent care industry. Urgent care was born, in part, as a response to patients’ growing demand for a convenient, affordable alternative to traditional primary and emergency room care.
On this landscape, using technology to meet the patient where they are and collecting patient feedback becomes much more important to providers who hope to grow their business. Using data to keep in-clinic time down and improve patient satisfaction can be the difference in the success of an urgent care clinic.
In this Urgent Care Quarterly, we will explore the relationship between wait times, managing expectations, and patient satisfaction.
Healthcare researchers have established a clear link between perceived wait times and overall satisfaction with the entire patient experience.
Average Urgent Care Wait Times
Before we analyze the impact of wait time on patient satisfaction, it’s important to look at the average time patients wait during an urgent care visit. For the purposes of this report, we define wait time as the number of minutes between the time patients check-in and when they are taken back to an exam room. A quick look at the data shows that a walk-in patient experiences a 33 percent longer wait time than a patient who checks in online. That 33 percent represents eight fewer minutes for patients.
The average wait time for a patient scheduling a visit online is 16 minutes, while walk-ins wait an average of 24 minutes before being taken back to an exam room. How does check-in method affect wait time?
Less than 15-minute wait time:
- Online schedulers – 63%
- Walk-ins – 47%
When registering online, 63 percent wait 15 minutes or less. If patients don’t first register online, the number of patients waiting 15 minutes or less drops to 47 percent.
Average Urgent Care Door-to-Door Time
While the amount of time spent in a waiting room may be a source of frustration for patients, their opinions of their urgent care experience are also affected by the total time spent from check-in at the clinic to check-out—or door-to-door time.
Online urgent care schedulers will spend an average of 54 minutes from check-in to check-out, while the average time for walk-ins is 69 minutes. Based on insight from Figure A, only eight of those minutes are attributable to wait time.
Many variables contribute to this longer door-to-door time. When looking for solutions to improve patient satisfaction, think beyond online registration tools. Consider queue management software that helps manage not only the wait, but impacts the entire patient visit before, during, and after they are in your clinic.
The Effect of Visit Volume on Length of Clinic Visit
Based on experience, it comes as no surprise that visit volume affects patients’ wait time. The more patients you see, the longer those patients will probably have to wait before seeing a provider, and the longer they’ll be in your clinic overall.
As you’d expect, wait time is greater for walk-ins than for online schedulers across all levels of patient volume. Although wait time increases for all patients as visit volume increases, the wait time for online schedulers levels off much sooner than for walk-in patients.
This data also tells us that wait time for online schedulers is much more consistent and predictable than walk-in wait time—important to keep in mind when considering the effect patients’ expectations can have on their satisfaction.
Similarly, door-to-door time increases for all patients as patient volume increases. Interestingly, door-to-door time seems to level off for online registrants when patient volume hits 60 daily visits, while walk-in patients’ door-to-door time continues an upward trend. This suggests that the method of check-in—online versus walk-in—may be a differentiator, especially for high-volume clinics.
The Importance of Geography
We thought it would be interesting to look at whether wait times are different regionally across the country. This data reflects earlier findings that wait times are longer for walk-ins than online schedulers. Wait times vary by up to six minutes for online schedulers and nine minutes for walk-ins. Door-to-door times vary by up to 14 minutes for online and 15 minutes for walk-ins by region. Regions with shorter overall wait times also have a smaller variance overall.
- Highest wait times for all patients are in the Southeast.
- Lowest wait times for all patients are in the Northeast.
- Highest door-to-door times for online schedulers are in the Southeast.
- Highest door-to-door times for walk-ins are in the Southwest.
- Lowest door-to door-times for all patients are in the Northeast.
This data suggests that location has less impact on wait time and door-to-door time than check-in method.
How Does Wait Time Affect Patient Satisfaction?
A look at wait times for urgent care patients that check in online versus in person suggests a correlation between check-in method and time spent waiting. But we should ask ourselves a bigger question. Why does this matter? Current research indicates that while the actual length of time patients wait has an effect on overall satisfaction, patient expectations also play a part.
In an interview with NPR, MIT professor and wait-time expert Dr. Dick Larson said, “a lot of times, it isn’t the actual duration of the wait that is so important to you. Psychologically, it’s the stress that somebody who arrives after you may slip before you and get service before you get served.”
This stressor and other psychological factors associated with waiting influence patient satisfaction and urgent care clinics’ Net Promoter Scores (NPS). Based on an index ranging from -100 to 100 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products or services, a clinic’s NPS is a good way to gauge patient satisfaction and brand loyalty. Your NPS reflects your clinic’s overall ability to attract and retain patients.
Not surprisingly, when we look at wait time and its relationship to NPS, the data indicates that overall, NPS decrease as wait times increase. Shorter wait times result in higher scores. What’s most interesting is that for online schedulers, NPS start lower and decrease faster than those of walk-ins. It tells us that online schedulers have a shorter tolerance for waiting. NPS drops to 27 for online registrants at the 30-minute mark, while walk-in patients give that score at the 60-minute mark.
When it comes to patient satisfaction, expectations seem to have an effect. Could expectations of a shorter wait time by online schedulers affect their satisfaction with the experience to a greater degree than the actual time they spend waiting? Managing their expectations could help raise their tolerance level. Consider other ways to set expectations once patients are in your clinic such as a visible queue on a TV in your waiting room.
When we look at NPS with respect to door-to-door times, an interesting trend shows up. Unlike with wait times, NPS peaks when door-to-door times reach 45 to 60 minutes for both online schedulers and walk-ins, but begin to decline again after 60 minutes.
This might indicate that while people are dissatisfied with a long wait time, they do want to spend some time with a physician, nurse, or another provider. For urgent care clinics, finding that balance is key to patient satisfaction.
Wait time is important to patients, but so is expectation setting—especially in a world where on-demand accessibility to goods and services is the norm and not the exception. This new breed of healthcare consumer wants convenient medical care delivered where, when, and in a time frame they find acceptable. This consumer also has access to many avenues to share a review of their experience with others, affecting the ability to attract and retain patients.
To be successful, urgent care clinics must not only reduce wait times but must also find ways to meet or exceed expectations by understanding the psychology of waiting and managing the entire patient waiting experience. New software solutions such as Clockwise.MD by DocuTAP, help urgent cares respond to this need by engaging patients with online scheduling, the ability to hold and see their place in line with virtual queues, and fast feedback opportunities.
Are you managing the patient experience in ways that increase your Net Promoter Score (NPS) and help you attract and retain patients? Can online scheduling and other mobile tools help you manage wait times? At DocuTAP, our goal has always been to provide a better urgent care experience. By collecting and sharing this data, we further our goal and the goals of urgent care clinics nationwide—and add to their success.
Each quarter DocuTAP publishes Urgent Care Quarterly where we dive deep into a data set and provide insight into urgent care trends. We look at the KPIs critical to the success of the industry—all with real, discrete data.
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