New Tool Helps Doctors Reduce Office Wait Time

August 2, 2010
Ed Rabinowitz

Patients kept waiting due to delays in a physician's schedule is a recurring problem -- but it's a problem that one doctor is attempting to fix with a new Web-based tool that helps doctors and patients better manage their time.

Imagine sitting in your car stuck in traffic, a large truck directly in front of you blocking your view -- no way to know why traffic has come to a standstill, or how long it might be that way. Everyone goes through it … and it’s frustrating.

The feeling is no different in a physician’s waiting room, where waiting -- more often than not -- is the operative word. According to Princeton University economics professor Alan Krueger, writing in his New York Times Economix blog, “Americans age 15 and older collectively spent 847 million hours waiting for medical services to be provided in 2007.”

“If you look at patient satisfaction surveys, the number one complaint from patients going to a doctor is the wait time,” says Vishal Mehta, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Illinois-based Fox Valley Orthopedic Institute (www.fvortho.com). “I’m no exception.”

Patients kept waiting due to delays in a physician’s schedule is a recurring problem -- but it’s a problem that Mehta says can be fixed.

Turn to Automation

Mehta has developed a Web-based tool called MedWaitTime that enables patients to check to see if he -- or any other physician using the tool -- is running late. Patients can do so before leaving home for their appointment -- not unlike checking a flight status before heading to the airport. Using the tool, physicians can plug in a color code -- green, yellow or red, depending on how late he may be running -- as well as a custom message indicating why he’s running late. Patients can go online or check their iPhone application to see if their appointment is on schedule. They can also plug in their appointment time along with their cell phone number and/or email address, and they’ll automatically receive an update one or two hours prior to their appointment.

“Patients are ecstatic,” says Mehta. “It’s the whole notion that an informed wait is a happier wait. It sets your expectation. And being able to give people their time back by letting them come in 15 or 20 minutes later and telling them why, it becomes a very personal thing.”

It certainly was personal prior to Mehta’s developing the Web-based tool. He recalls when he was running one hour behind schedule, his secretary would come to him frazzled because she had angry patients sitting in the waiting room and staring at her. Not any more -- and Mehta says it “literally takes 15 seconds” for a physician or a member of his staff to go online and change the message.

Doctors Like the Tool

The MedWaitTime application is available on a subscription basis. There’s a one-month free trial, and then the monthly fee is $50 per doctor. There is no charge for patient use. Already available in an iPhone compatible application, which is free to download, an Android and Blackberry version will be released shortly.

Arun Mani, DC, is a chiropractor with Total Body Health Center in St. Charles, Ill. He signed on for the MedWaitTime application virtually the day it was launched, and says the both he and his patients are very pleased with the tool.

“Chiropractic physicians generally treat people who are local, so we have people who will schedule an appointment through lunch where they can get in, get their treatment, and get out,” Mani explains. “My practice is literally surrounded by bankers, accountants and other professionals. They command a high rate of pay per hour. So, the less time they’re sitting in my waiting room, the happier they are.”

Mani acknowledges that patient wait time is a major problem in the healthcare community. He says that he has had new patients come to his office from other clinics, specifically stating that their former doctor was excellent, but that they would often sit in his waiting room for half an hour for a ten-minute treatment. “We try our best to stay on schedule, but it doesn’t always work that way. And when it doesn’t, at least we can communicate,” Mani says.

The application also contains a feature that allows patients to check for walk-in appointments -- a feature that physicians can employ if they’re looking to increase practice traffic. Patients simply go to MedWaitTime website, enter their zip code and the medical specialty they’re looking for, and the application will bring up those physicians and their contact information who are accepting walk-in appointments.

“If you and I had an appointment at meet at 3 p.m. and I showed up at 4 p.m., I would be mortified,” Mehta says. “There’s no way I would do that to you. I would call you, apologize, and say that I’m running late. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t behave that same way in my professional life.”