Healthcare consumers have run out of patience with long wait times. In an era where Starbucks orders are scheduled down to the minute, extended waiting periods can shatter patient satisfaction and unravel brand loyalty. Even before the pandemic delayed preventive care, 49% of consumers cited waiting as the most challenging part of accessing care. Consumers also feel up to 7x more negatively about long wait times than they feel positively about shorter wait times. 

Let’s unpack where long wait times persist and how providers can offer more timely access to care. 

Where’s the Hold Up in Patient Access? 

Waiting doesn’t just happen in the doctor’s office. It occurs at every step of the patient access journey. Since one in five patients will change providers following a long wait experience, these common slowdowns can impact a provider’s bottom line. 

Limited Channels & Hours for Scheduling Care

A consumer’s path to care often begins with contacting a health system’s access center. This is easier said than done for people who work during normal business hours and have limited opportunity to call. 

Once on the line, consumers are usually put on hold. Some don’t wait; 13% of calls to healthcare call centers end with patients hanging up before speaking with a live agent. Those who press forward then wait as their agent manually matches them with the right provider and reserves an appointment, sometimes transferring the call to a new agent in the process. Accenture estimates that it takes an average 8.1 minutes to schedule a doctor’s appointment on the phone, with calls transferred 63% of the time. However, 42% of consumers say it takes too long to schedule an appointment over the phone. 

Long Gaps Between Scheduling and Attending a Visit

According to Merritt Hawkins, patients wait an average 24 days to see a provider after booking their appointment. For new patients, this wait time balloons to an average 32 days. The COVID-19 pandemic has added even more time to the clock. Elective surgery patients waited 8% longer in 2020 than in 2019 due to widespread cancellations and delays. 

Yet consumers want to access their care at a faster clip. In DocASAP’s 2020 consumer survey, 84% of consumers said they prefer to wait no more than 2 weeks before an appointment, up 4% from 2019. 

How Providers Can Shorten Wait Times and Improve Access

These digital strategies can help providers reduce wait times, improving patient access and satisfaction in one fell swoop. 

Expand Access 24/7 with Online Scheduling

Online appointment scheduling offers consumers a pathway to care they can access at their own convenience. That’s why 74% of consumers say being able to schedule appointments outside of business hours is important to them. 

In addition to 24/7 convenience, online scheduling enables patients to schedule care more quickly. Instead of spending several minutes sharing information over the phone and waiting to be transferred to a live agent, consumers are empowered to book their own appointment through digital self-service. 

Online doctor appointment scheduling also benefits patients who prefer to contact the call center. When patients can schedule care through digital channels, call centers will have shorter queues. It also removes pressure from clinical support staff, who report spending 3+ hours a day coordinating appointments. 

Navigate Patients to Near-Term or Virtual Care

Prioritize matching patients with providers with near-term availability. This is easily accomplished with a doctor scheduling solution that automatically identifies alternate providers that match the patient’s search criteria. Instead of scheduling a visit several weeks out, patients are empowered to explore alternative care options like telehealth and get quicker care. 

For example, 47% of patients who book appointments through DocASAP get an appointment within 3 days and 65% get an appointment within 7 days.

The ability to view a provider’s open appointment slots and alternate providers with greater availability both speeds up access and increases satisfaction. According to Evernorth, 42% of consumers say the ability to search for appointment availability is a part of their ideal healthcare experience.

Next Steps

With DocASAP, health systems can direct patients seeking care to the right provider. DocASAP’s advanced search and navigation algorithms match the patient’s demographics, insurance, clinical and timely care needs with provider scheduling rules, credentials and availability. Learn more about our provider matching capabilities here. 

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