7 Ideas to Engage Patients While They Wait

A long patient wait time is never a good thing. However, the reality is patients do spend at least some time waiting—even if it’s just a few minutes while a secretary verifies insurance information or a medical assistant preps an exam room. And, if you look at most waiting rooms nationwide, patients seem to be perfectly satisfied immersing themselves in social media on their mobile devices, reading a magazine, or simply daydreaming until their name is called.

However, does it behoove physicians to make use of this time while patients wait to provide clinical and financial education or simply improve the overall patient experience?

Yes, if you can do it relatively easily and on a small budget, says Frank Cohen, founder of the Frank Cohen Group, a company that assists healthcare organizations and physician practices in the areas of process improvement, compliance, quality, and profitability. Even a small gesture toward patient engagement can go a long way in terms of retention and satisfaction, he says.

Consider these seven ideas:

1. Update demographic and insurance information. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by to thoroughly update each patient’s address, phone number, email address, and insurance information, says Cohen. Far too often, practices gloss over this information in an effort to be efficient only to realize after claim submission that they don’t have accurate or complete data. Consider providing patients with a print out or computer tablet while they wait so they can take their time reviewing and updating information.

2. Provide educational pamphlets about the dangers of non-compliance. For example, consider providing a resource on what can happen if a patient with diabetes doesn’t take his or her insulin. Another example is a patient with depression who suddenly stops taking his or her anti-depressant medication. This engages patients while they wait and provides subtle and non-intrusive education that can drive positive behavior change.

3. Offer information about financial assistance. This could include brochures about tax-deductible health savings accounts (HSA) or local charities that can help patients in need, says Cohen. The practice may also want to consider asking patients whether they have any billing-related questions while they wait—and remind them of any outstanding balances that are due.

4. Introduce patients to the portal. This is an ideal time to provide patients with a username, password, and brief introduction to the portal—but only if the practice has taken the time to ensure that the information therein is helpful, says Cohen. If patients can’t access any meaningful data, don’t try to convince them to sign up yet, he adds.

Practices that do provide portal education may want to consider including access to a laptop or tablet in the waiting area so patients can sign up with the help of an office assistant. Cohen suggests networking with local high schools to arrange internships during which students can help patients sign up for the portal or fill out other paperwork.

5. Ask patients to complete a brief satisfaction survey or drop a card in a suggestion box. This is a great use of patients’ time, but practices must also be prepared to respond to feedback, says Cohen. “If you don’t have a responsive physician and staff members, then you just put salt in the wound when there’s a problem,” he adds.

6. Introduce patients to your patient advocate. Cohen says some practices have hired patient advocates to assist patients while they wait by answering questions or noting medical and other concerns that the physician can address during the actual appointment. This saves time on the back-end collecting information, and patients appreciate having a unbiased third-party in whom they can confide.

7. Think ‘comfort’ at all times. In a waiting area, something as simple as magazines, a TV, or a few children’s toys are always appreciated. Some practices provide bottled water with the caveat that patients who are undergoing an office procedure should check with the secretary before drinking. Other practices provide reading glasses so patients can fill out paperwork more efficiently. Patients notice and often remember these small details long after the appointment is over.

For more ideas to engage patients, download this helpful guide.

About the Author

Lisa A. Eramo, BA, MA is a freelance writer specializing in health information management, medical coding, and regulatory topics. She began her healthcare career as a...

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