Improving Patient Satisfaction – How to Improve Patient Flow

Patient Satisfaction Begins in the Office

This morning I received a satisfaction survey by email from the medical clinic I visited last week. The doctor’s office visit was like any other with the usual long wait times, reading through old issues of various nursing magazines (I found the articles on nursing assertiveness and hospital rounding procedures interesting), while I waited for the medical assistant to call my name on the hospital paging system.

As usual, being exposed to different cultures where hospitals routinely process patients with very high patient throughput rates with highly satisfied patients and with a background in hospital consulting, I was not happy about the wait time so on the doctor's satisfaction survey, I had to score them a 2 out of 5 on “Patient Wait Time”. I remember this is the fourth time I give my doctor’s office a Wait Time of 2 out of 5 on their medical excellence survey. I do not know if anyone will review the satisfaction results or if any action will be taken to improve the wait time, but I know I have started to search for other physicians located in my community.

Doctor caring for a patient

I take care of my health and in pursuit of my own care management, as a health care efficiency consultant and advisor, I have been to many doctors’ offices over the years as I have had to move from one state to another and from one city to the next and from community after community. In my travels, I have found a very interesting perception that physicians, nurses and the entire medical administration staff often take long patient wait time for granted and view this system wide waste as unavoidable and therefore not worth thinking about. So for patients who want to schedule an appointment with a doctor, the month’s long patient wait time is like delaying a purchase for a buy-one-get-one-free sale promotion.

Let’s look at the following scenario and let me know if it looks familiar to you.

I spend around two hours for each doctor visit. Of the two hours, I wait 30 to 40 minutes in the waiting area, if there are some forms to complete, my wait time may be longer. I am called by a Medical Assistant. I spend around 15 minutes having my vitals taken and being escorted to the exam room. I spend another 10 to 30 minutes waiting in the room. Finally, my doctor comes in and he/she spends 5 to 10 minutes with me. Then I spend 5 to 10 minutes checking out. If tests are ordered, and they always are, I have to drive across town to get those done someplace else usually, then re-schedule a follow up visit with the doctor to get the results. Out of the two hours, I meet my doctor for only 5 to 10 minutes and I spend most of my time waiting. Waiting for what? Does this situation look familiar to you? Have you experienced a similar scenario?

Is the patient wait time along each of the different steps and stations really unavoidable? Is there really nothing we can do to improve it? We all know there is competition in the Healthcare industry. If you choose not to improve the patient flow, you take the risk of losing patients.

I recently had a chance to work on a clinic operation improvement project. The clinic has over ten Texas locations in Houston, Baytown and Beaumont with various clinical services such as Adult Primary Care, Pediatrics, Obgyn, Maternity, Behavioral Health, Dental Vision and others. In the course of this project, I had the chance to work with different functions and observe the clinical operation as a whole. For example, I worked with the scheduling team, the front desk staff, the medical staff, the referral department, etc. Of course, there are many areas of improvement in the clinic operation. One of the most important elements for improving efficiency in healthcare services is managing the patient flow.

What is Patient Flow?

Simply speaking, Patient Flow refers to the processes and steps a patient moves through from check in through check out. It represents the ability of the clinic's system to quickly and efficiently treat a patient during the time the patient is in the clinic or hospital. When patient flow operates efficiently and smoothly patient wait time improves and patient satisfaction increases.

Improving Patient Satisfaction

How is patient flow and patient satisfaction measured? There will usually be indicators of patient dissatisfaction such as low scores on satisfaction surveys as we have already discussed. To improve the situation, we normally recommend first starting with good process flow analytics. One good metric, of course, is the patient wait time. Identify the functions or processes that affects the patient wait time the most and ask yourself if there is some way to improve the situation? From the moment a patient first schedules an appointment throughout the time of the office visit and until the patient checks out, each step of the patient care operation affects the patient wait time and customer satisfaction.

Does this sound like it’s too much work or unmanageable? It is a lot to think about if one wants to improve their patient satisfaction score but it is easily doable and manageable. There are always some areas that we can work on to lower cost and to improve the patient flow.

To help your health care practice reduce patient wait time and to help you improve your patient satisfaction score, we have prepared a consulting brief with practical suggestions you can implement with minimal effort titled “12 Ways to Improve Patient Flow”. If you would like to download a copy, just click the button below.

Free Download - Get our Consulting Brief How to Improve Patient Flow


Emma Zhang is an experienced audit professional, with more than six years of internal audit & Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) compliance focusing on operations, accounting, internal controls and process improvement. Competencies include operational auditing, accounting, management consulting, Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) compliance, audit planning and risk assessments, operational/financial planning and analysis, and data analysis. Emma is a resourceful, creative thinker and analytical problem solver with demonstrated ability to independently manage tasks from planning through execution in dynamic, fast-paced, and time-sensitive environments. Emma is a CPA with a CFE certificate. Emma is also a Blackline Certified Implementation Professional and helps clients to implement Blackline system.