From the Editor

The ubiquitous, drawn-out, annoying wait to see the doctor

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CASE: Radical solution: They shuttered the waiting room

The physicians in the gyn practice were designing a new office. They decided to have a reception area but not a waiting room. Their plan was to have patients register and then guide themselves to a designated open examining room.

Pioneering physicians are experimenting with the radical idea of closing the waiting room. Patients are guided from the registration desk directly to an examining room.

Consider what occurs in one practice that has implemented so-called direct-rooming.

  • At registration, the patient is given a card and map directing her to an open examining room. To help her find the right room, each one is named after, say, a well-known flower.
  • When the patient finds her room, she places a card on the door indicating that the room is occupied
  • A computer prompt alerts the medical staff that the patient is registered and has entered the designated room
  • Medical staff then begins the visit by greeting her and completing intake tasks, such as blood pressure and weight checks.

In practices that have adopted this kind of novel system, wait time before the patient sees a physician declined by approximately 50%, on average. And patients reported an enhanced sense of privacy and satisfaction with their visit.

An indirect effect of the system is that office medical staff may be more attentive to the patient’s needs because they immediately see her in the examining room—instead of being insulated from her and the other patients who are huddled in the waiting room.

The long wait has been called many names

Patients know that having to wait to see the doctor is a ubiquitous experience. It’s also a trove of other, unpleasant adjectives: interminable, annoying, aggravating, frustrating. And it’s hugely expensive for physicians and patients.

The solution to the problem of extended patient waits doesn’t follow formula; what works is likely to be unique to each practice. One common element, however, is physician leadership to reduce wait times, with the goal of improving patients’ satisfaction at each visit.


Have a pearl from your practice to share with your colleagues for minimizing or utilizing patient wait time? Tell us by visiting “Send Us Your Letters.” Include your name, city, and state. We’ll publish intriguing ideas in an upcoming issue.

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