Wait times down 5 minutes in 2016

The average time a patient spent waiting to see their physician was 20 minutes in 2016, a five-minute improvement from the previous year, according to a survey of more than 1,200 practices released by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).

Those 20 minutes were evenly split between the waiting area and exam room. Hospital-owned practices moved patients through more quickly than those owned by physicians, with an average wait time of 17 minutes last year.

The survey didn’t detail what practices did to reduce wait times, though prior research found clinic congestion, patient punctuality and the time a physician takes with processing are the major factors.

“Medical practices face a variety of challenges today, and among the most addressable are practice operations which tend to separate top performing practices from the rest,” MGMA President and CEO Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, said in a statement. “With this survey, we aim to glean insights that will enable practices to improve efficiencies and better serve their patients by making processes as smooth as possible.”

With wait times being a key component of patient satisfaction, it’s little surprise that nearly 75 percent of respondents conducted patient satisfaction surveys after every visit. Few reported doing so more frequently, and 3.3 percent said they never conduct such surveys. By far the most common method for delivering the surveys was email, used by 79.5 percent of practices.

There were differences among practices by ownership when it came to other forms of patient engagement. Hospital-owned practices across all specialties utilized patient portals more than physician-owned practices on every measure in the survey, including using the portal to pay bills (30 percent at hospital-owned practices vs. 10 percent at physician-owned), communicate with providers (29 percent vs. 15 percent), scheduling appointments (30 percent vs. 3 percent) and downloading or transmitting medical records (29 percent vs. 15 percent). Primary care practices had the highest percentage of use among all specialties.