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Top 5 Causes of Excessive Wait in Eye Care Clinics

April 30, 2024
Top 5 Causes of Excessive Wait in Eye Care Clinics

Waiting. It’s the bane of patients everywhere and represents the largest opportunity cost for eye care clinics in terms of reaching full clinic capacity, revenue, and profitability. 

When patients wait, they are not getting the value we promised them: they have come to see the doctor, not memorize the waiting room decor. Our value lies in the direct care we provide and when we don’t provide it in a timely fashion, providers grumble and patients defect. In order to reduce wait times, we first need to know where to look. We have identified five main areas that impact patient wait times. 

1. Inefficient Scheduling of Patients

The arrival rate of patients is the key starting point for addressing any patient flow issues which result in excessive wait times that negatively affect patient experience or provider efficiency: too many patients causes bottlenecks, too few allows for the possibility that providers get sidetracked by other tasks. Both of these scenarios result in wait times. Understanding provider work patterns and the length of time required for examinations and procedures, allows practices to adjust and maintain the rate of patient arrivals to match the flow pattern of the provider. To learn more about how to determine each provider’s flow pattern and how to schedule patients accordingly, read our post about using takt time to help clinics achieve maximum capacity.

2. Inappropriate Time-Balancing of Internal Workflows 

Once patient arrival rates are scheduled appropriately, the next step is to organize all the activities and resources upstream of the provider such that they can be accomplished according to the same pace and rhythm as the provider’s takt time. Value stream mapping enables clinics to lay out every individual step involved in getting a patient from check-in to check-out to better analyze the timing of the overall workflow. Through direct observation of the actual work and documentation of the time needed to complete each step, clinics can begin to understand their “standard” work, that is, precisely how long it should take to complete each step in their particular clinic. While there can be many different factors that come into play when balancing workflows, accurate insights into patient scheduling and “standard” work means that practice managers can effectively balance activities to stay on pace while maintaining the highest level of care.

3. No Available Rooms

Does the practice have enough rooms to operate at the full pace of the provider? Delays in rooming patients because there are none available causes stress—to both staff and patients— and inefficiencies. Sometimes misinterpreted as a scheduling problem, space constraints are usually revealed during a thorough workflow analysis. If clinics react too hastily by pulling back on the number of patients to address perceived space constraints, capacity is compromised, direct care is reduced, and revenue is left on the table. If true space constraints are identified, the number of rooms must be increased to meet demand.

4. Staff Constraints

The same can be said for staff resources. As with room constraints, when a practice does not have enough staff to stay on pace with the providers, or if existing staff are not performing optimally, clinics should acknowledge this and make adjustments to keep the practice operating at an optimal pace. 

5. “Controllable” Wait

We tend to place blame for wait times on the lack of resources—rooms, staff, or equipment— but we can all recognize this scenario: a patient is waiting, a room is available, and a staff member is available – yet no direct care is happening. In this situation, there are no constraints, just a slow response due to barriers in the patient flow. This is the worst and most expensive waste in the system. 

The good news is that this problem is also the easiest to solve and does not require any great investment. With better workflow communications, team-based problem solving, and management engagement, this type of ‘controllable’ wait can be minimized and throughput enhanced. Read more about Barriers to Flow and how to mitigate them.

Using a Lean Approach to Reduce Wait Times

Research shows that not only do longer wait times severely impact patient satisfaction, but the longer a patient waits, the lower their overall perception of their provider and quality of care. This goes on to have an impact on how likely they are to return to your practice or refer you to others, causing a significant negative effect on your clinic’s reputation. 

The impact of long wait times goes far beyond the patient experience, however, and cuts directly to the bottom line by exposing performance gaps. One way to close those gaps is by using Lean Six Sigma management principles to help identify potential flaws in processes, increase operational efficiency, and ensure that limited resources are used only for purposes that add true value. Visual management, too, helps all members of the care team see when patients are waiting, what resources are available, and what they need to do in order to keep the workflow moving smoothly and on time. Visual Clinic’s patient flow management solutions are based on these principles and we have been helping clients streamline their practices for more than a decade. Through a careful analysis of patient flow and resource allocation, every eye care provider can use the basic principles of Lean Six Sigma in their own clinic, even without outside assistance. 

Contact us if you’d like more information about how Visual Clinic can help reduce wait times in your clinic or book a demo here.

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