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Patients Rank Doctors Lower if they Experience Long Delays in Waiting Rooms

Every 10-minute increase in wait times is associated with a 3-percent drop in ratings

Published February 25, 2020 | Updated February 25, 2020

People sitting in a doctor's office waiting room
People sitting in a doctor's office waiting room

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DURHAM, N.C. – Doctors are increasingly rated by their patients for the quality of their care, but one seemingly unrelated issue can tank that all-important score: Long delays in the waiting room.

“Waiting to see the doctor is not like waiting in line for a fun ride at Disney World,” said Oren Gottfried, M.D., a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at Duke University School of Medicine and senior author of a study published online in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. 

“While a medical visit is important, it does not have the positive feedback of an amusement park ride where a two-hour wait seems worth it for even a short ride,” he said. “This isn’t entirely surprising, but our data shows it’s something doctors need to be aware of and should manage.”

Gottfried, who studies how basic interactions can improve doctor-patient relationships, communications and outcomes, worked with his co-authors to analyze data from 15 months of patient visits to 22 spine surgeons at Duke practices. More than 27,000 patient visits were included.

The researchers considered demographics, waiting-room times, in-room times, lead times, timely note closure, timely electronic health record responses and monthly patient volume. 

With the average clinic visit lasting about 85 minutes, the researchers found that every 10-minute increase in waiting time was associated with a 3-percent decrease in patient scores for the doctor on the patient’s rating of overall visit experience as well as the doctor’s communication score.

“Anytime you can improve scores by 3%, that’s big,” Gottfried said. “So if 10 minutes in the waiting room means a drop of 3%, that something that should be addressed, because it’s hard to make up for that in the actual doctor-patient visit.”

In addition to Gottfried, study authors include Rasheedat T. Zakare-Fagbamila, Christine Park, Wes Dickson and Tracy Z. Cheng.

The study received support from the National Center For Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (TL1TR001116).

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