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Taking the Wait Out of the Doctor's Office
From: Business Ramblings

A beautiful sunny day on the interstate. Traffic is flowing smoothly and you're making great time to your destination. But then you see the electronic road sign and it tells you that there's an accident 2 miles ahead and it's causing traffic delays. Fortunately, you see an exit ramp coming up and there are several restaurants just off the ramp. You decide to pull off for a meal break and to wait out the traffic pileup. The sign made all the difference.

A Delay-Advisory System for Medical Facilities

Dr. Vishal Mehta is taking this concept of a notification system and applying it to the medical world. His recently-launched website,, allows participating medical facilities to give patients an idea of how long they will have to wait to be seen. Medical facilities pay a relatively small monthly fee to make the service available to their patients.

Patients can log on to see the current wait time or opt to be notified by e-mail or mobile device of any schedule delays. Armed with this information, they can use their waiting time more effectively. Some might wonder why a facility would want people to know whether its operations are running on-schedule.

Why Would a Medical Facility Want This Service?

So why would an office manager want to install this system? First, it could result in less griping from the patients in the waiting room, since they will know ahead of time if their appointment is going to be delayed.

When waiting patients are less cranky, the reception staff will be calmer too. They'll have fewer patients coming up and asking, "How much longer before I get called?" On the other hand, this website could also help doctors fill their off-peak times with appointments.

Many times, people need to be seen the same day because of an illness or injury. Using this website, patients could find a facility that has same-day openings or that accepts walk-in appointments and has a short wait time. In either situation, the facility wins by using some of its empty appointment slots. In this case, it's a win-win situation. The patient gets seen quickly and the facility gets another billable appointment.

Let's look at why patients would encourage their doctors to sign up for the service.

Why Patients Like It

First and foremost, knowing the facility's schedule helps patients make better use of their time. If they know the facility is running late, they can elect to stay at their home or office a little longer and get more things done instead of sitting in a doctor's office and reading year-old copies of Newsweek.

Second, they will have a more realistic expectation of how long they will be sitting in the waiting area. If the website tells them the facility is running behind, they can expect to wait longer than necessary and plan for the wait accordingly, perhaps bringing a book to read or papers to work on. If the delay is significant, they may want to reschedule instead.

Knowing of the delay gives the patient a chance to reschedule the appointment without driving in and sitting around. Once again, this is a win-win situation. The patient doesn't have to reorganize his entire day because of a medical delay, and the medical facility may get a chance to catch up if the patient's appointment time is now empty.

This new web application may have some additional benefits for medical facilities.

The Hawthorne Effect

Facilities who sign up for the service and suddenly find their wait times being publicly visible may actually reduce their average wait time in the long run. Henry A. Landsberger first identified this phenomenon in 1955 and named it the Hawthorne Effect, named after the Hawthorne Works company where he first observed it.

The Hawthorne Effect states that a person being studied improves their performance simply because they know they are being observed. Think of it as singing onstage instead of singing in the shower -- you put your best foot forward when you're being watched.

If a facility knows its wait times are now public knowledge, they may take steps in the office to reduce the patient wait times. Here again, this is a win for both the facility and the patient. On the other hand, facilities that already have low wait times may gain additional patients.

Building Patient Loyalty

Patients looking for a facility to visit may compare wait times between two otherwise-similar options. Facilities with shorter wait times may build a loyal following of patients tired of waiting long past their scheduled time to be seen. The facilities with the best statistics could even use this as one of their unique selling propositions.

It's too early to tell whether will gain enough momentum to remain viable. As with many other business ventures, marketing will be critical. If Dr. Mehta's sales team can sell the benefits of this site to enough doctors and hospitals, his brainchild may be a game-changer in the way patient appointments are handled. It would be a wonderful world indeed where you could walk into a clinic and know just how much wait time to expect.