No one likes to show up on time for a scheduled meeting only to have to wait for the other party to arrive—yet patients often find themselves waiting to see their doctors. A recent research report by Software Advice found patients are increasingly using online reviews to learn how long the patient wait-time is likely to be before making an appointment. Clearly, the issue is an important one for patient satisfaction, which means it’s important for patient retention, too.
Patients spend substantial amount of time in the clinics waiting for services to be delivered by physicians and other allied health professionals. The degree to which health consumers are satisfied with the care received is strongly related to the quality of the waiting experience. Healthcare organizations that strive to deliver exceptional services must effectively manage their clinic wait. Failure to incorporate consumer-driven features into the design of wait experience could lead to patient and provider dissatisfaction.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that, at least 90% of patients should be seen within 30 min of their scheduled appointment time. This is, however, not the case in most developing countries, as several studies have shown that patients spend 2-4 h in the outpatient departments before seeing the doctor. A source of dissatisfaction with health care reported by patients is having to wait a long period of time in the clinic, and several studies have documented the negative association between increased waiting time and patient satisfaction with primary care.
The duration of waiting time varies from country to country, and even within country it varies from center to center. Long waiting times have been reported in both developed and developing countries. In the USA, an average waiting time of about 60 min was found in Atlanta, and an average of 188 min in Michigan. In Nigeria, an average waiting time of about 173 min was found in Benin, while in University College Hospital Ibadan, a mean waiting time of 1 h 13 min was observed. Time spent waiting is a resource investment by the patient for the desired goal of being seen by the physician and therefore may be moderated by the outcome.
Findings from one study have showed varying degrees of waiting time in the general outpatient department (GOPD) of the study area. More than half of the patients waited for more than 1 h, with high patient load coupled with few doctors and nurses being the main causes of this long waiting time. If the aims of the Millennium Development Goals and recommendations of the IOM are to be realized, there is an urgent need for our health facilities to increase the number of health workers in the GOPDs which are the gate way to the hospital. This will go a long way in reducing the long waiting time experienced by patients and thus increase the rating of satisfaction with services.
Healthcare providers also need training on the various ways by which waiting time can be reduced such as the application of computer simulation to assist in allotting appointment time to patients and triage system to sort out patients with urgent need of attention.