Long Waiting Times in Healthcare: How to Improve the Patient Experience

Published on 14/02/2024

Patient using phone to book online

Patients are no strangers to this scenario: days, weeks or even months of waiting and frustration before finally entering the doctor’s office for the long-awaited consultation. Whether it’s getting an appointment with a dermatologist or a sought-after specialty, the “appointment booking journey” closely resembles a long-distance race with no finish line in sight.

A revealing 2022 study in 15 US major cities highlights this pattern, showing that a new primary care patient typically has to wait 26 days for an appointment. While waiting times in the US are considered relatively long, patients in Europe get an appointment more quickly. Generally, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Germany have the shortest wait times for healthcare services, with 87% of residents being seen in one day or less.

Chances are, no one likes to have to wait, especially when it comes to their own health or that of their loved ones. Many patients who have used Doctena in recent years have expressed this exact feeling. Medical appointments are most often sought and booked for the same day, as highlighted in our ‘2023 Annual Report: An insight into Appointment Booking, Patient Behaviour and Trends in Healthcare’. In 2023, 1 in 4 patients scheduled their appointment within 24 hours of the consultation actually taking place.

The request for a quick appointment with a healthcare professional has become increasingly problematic, impacted by the rising patient demand that adds pressure on medical practices. The reasons behind these prolonged waiting times are diverse.

The Potential Causes of Extended Waiting Times

  • The need for doctors, particularly specialists, often exceeds the available supply. This imbalance is particularly noticeable in densely populated areas, leading to patient bottlenecks and significantly long waiting periods for appointments.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the healthcare system into disarray, resulting in numerous cancelled or postponed appointments during lockdowns. This means rescheduling appointments and addressing urgent cases without delay at the same time.
  • The pandemic has driven up demand for certain specialists, such as psychologists and psychiatrists. In at least seven EU countries, people have to wait more than a month for an appointment with a psychologist, according to an investigation by the Spanish Newsroom Civio.

So, are there any practical solutions to minimise waiting times in the long run?

Practices Need to Efficiently Expand Online Appointment Booking

When scheduling an appointment online, patients expect the booking process and getting treatment to be quick and easy. Practices need to be well-prepared for this.

A complete and easy-to-use appointment management system is the initial step for healthcare professionals. It helps to keep track of practice availabilities and manage them seamlessly. Moreover, online appointment booking and automated appointment confirmations are all ways to assist secretaries.

Reducing manual and repetitive tasks enables practice teams to decrease waiting times in the practice, coordinate appointments more effectively, and potentially open up time slots for new requests.

Getting Appointments Online Even Outside of Practice Hours

Last year, 30% of appointments on Doctena were booked between 6 pm and 8 am as well as 20% on weekends. The ability to book appointments online at any time offers patients great flexibility, making it easier for them to find a time that suits them.

  • Patients can access a variety of doctors and healthcare professionals at any time and from the comfort of their homes.
  • Patients can browse doctors outside their immediate location who may offer earlier available appointments.
  • Additionally, patients can compare availabilities from different practitioners and sign up for a last-minute appointment.

Get the Most out of Last-Minute Availability

It is frequent for appointments to be cancelled at the last minute. This is an excellent opportunity to offer an earlier availability to waiting patients.

94% of all doctors and healthcare professionals on Doctena are using the Last-Minute Availability feature.

How do patients book last-minute appointments?
Patients can book a slot online through Doctena and then, with a click, add themselves to a Last-Minute Availability list. They are notified via email if an earlier slot becomes available. With one final click, they can then reschedule their appointment to an earlier date.

Shorten Practice Waiting Times with AI

Waiting in the practice before a consultation can also affect getting an appointment in the long run. As a result of time constraints, practices often lack structured processes, coordinate patient intake, and perform many manual tasks simultaneously. This can result in appointment delays and long-term overload for receptionists.

A modern appointment management software tailored to their processes can provide relief. Moreover, an increasing number of doctors are incorporating AI-assisted anamnesis during patient intake to save valuable time in the waiting room.

Doctena leverages artificial intelligence to its advantage. Through its integration with Bingli, a medical chatbot powered by artificial intelligence, both doctors and patients can save valuable time. Before the appointment, Bingli asks patients about their medical history and any symptoms or complaints. This ensures healthcare professionals receive all essential patient information in digital form before the consultation.

Towards Perfect Patient and Practice Management

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to shorten appointment wait times. It requires long-term measures and efforts within the healthcare system. While the influx of patients is difficult to control, doctors and their practice teams can simplify processes. By using online booking platforms and improving practice and patient management, they can achieve better long-term time management.

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We strive to improve patient care by simplifying and securing communication between practitioners and patients. With Doctena, patients can book appointments easily and healthcare professionals can send them automated reminders securely.

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