A journey through a doctor’s office visit is all too familiar to clinicians and staff, but patients may not know what to expect. Managing expectations provides reassurance and may improve the patient experience.
Last week, I accompanied my wife to her ophthalmology new patient appointment. We were quickly taken to an exam room, where we sat for just a few minutes before a friendly technician came in to begin the evaluation. He asked many questions, took myriad measurements, which he documented in the EHR, and engaged in pleasant small talk. After about 20 minutes, my wife and I began giving each other quizzical looks. Was there much more to do? Her appointment was at 8:30 am, and we arrived the obligatory 15 minutes early, and now it was after 9:00 and we had yet to meet the doctor. Finally, as the technician donned gloves once again, he said these magic words:
“I’m going to measure your eye pressure which will take just a few minutes, write down the measurement, and then the doctor will be right in.”
Although we knew that we would be in the office a while longer, it helped just knowing what to expect. Thinking back, it would have been even better if the staff had explained the entire process from the moment we arrived. Something like this:
“Hi, welcome to our office. I’ll take you to your exam room where you’ll first meet with our technician. He’ll review your concerns, medical history, and take some measurements. After that, the doctor will come in, examine you, and discuss the plan.”
It was really remarkable how much more relaxed we were after the technician managed our expectations. I began to think about my own practice, and how we can improve the way we keep our patients informed during visits, especially around wait times. This is a low cost intervention with rich reward.
To optimize experience when patients arrive for an appointment (especially new patients):
1. Describe each step of the office journey.
2. Explain the role of each staff member with whom the patient will interact.
3. If there’s an unexpected delay, let the patient know, along with a polite apology.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.