Physical therapy treatment plans are designed to help people get back on their feet, yet your patients may find themselves doing a whole lot of the opposite when they’re at your clinic. Even the best physical therapy practices can experience long wait times now and then, but that can lead to patient dissatisfaction—and a lot of negative online reviews. Although your practice might not be the PT equivalent of the DMV, your patients will invariably spend at least a few minutes in your waiting room, so here are four tips to improve your wait times:

1. Collect patient feedback.

The first step toward improving your wait times is to understand exactly why your patients have to wait. Your gut may tell you to simply hire extra front office staff, but that might not be your most effective option for shortening patient wait time (and it’s certainly not the most cost-effective choice, either). So, talk to your patients, whether that’s through open and honest conversations or anonymous patient surveys. Once you know where your practice falls short, you can make improvements in those areas.

2. Rethink the space.

The above-mentioned patient surveys are a great way to discover what your patients dislike most about their wait (other than the wait itself, of course). That front office water feature you installed to help patients relax? Yeah, they may secretly want to throw it through a window to make the bubbling just stop already (and now that you mention it, where’s the bathroom?). So, consider how temperature, sound, lighting, color, and even the comfort of your chairs impact the environment in your waiting room. Think about it this way: if you’re in for a long flight, you’d be a lot more comfortable in first class than you would be in coach, right? Your patients feel the same way about sitting in stiff, armless chairs with no padding; trade up for something a little cushier.

3. Acknowledge the wait.

Have you ever noticed that the drive to somewhere always seems longer than the drive back? Similarly, if your patients don’t know how long they have to wait—or why—then their wait will seem much longer than it really is. To avoid that, you’ll need to acknowledge the wait time in two ways. First, set expectations by informing patients of your average wait time when they schedule their appointments. Second, if the wait time is longer on the day of a patient’s appointment, you should apologize, explain what caused the delay, and keep the patient updated during the wait. Your time is valuable, but be sure your patients know their time is valuable, too.

4. Use an EMR.

Is your practice having trouble scheduling and managing patient appointments? Patients showing up late and throwing off your whole day’s schedule? That’s where an EMR can help. WebPT, for example, allows you to easily view and edit schedules for your patients, therapists, and treatment rooms. Plus, you can automatically send appointment reminders so patients show up on time.  

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Of course, the best tip for improving the patient wait time is to keep it as short as possible. In fact, it’s possible to eliminate the waiting—and the waiting room itself—almost completely, like this practice did. But for the days when emergencies, flat tires, and bad traffic make staying on schedule an impossible task, strive to keep your patients comfortable and informed. The road to recovery for your patients can be grueling, but their wait time at your clinic shouldn’t be.