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We frequently are told that a startup urgent care center has a great idea, they are going to post their wait times right online. It sounds like a great idea, with a direct view toward good customer service. People have the information and can decide whether to come in now or later. This afternoon we sampled the websites for two urgent care centers that post wait times. Snippets from their websites are attached. This afternoon’s research seemed to indicate that both clinics were quite backed up. Does anyone seriously believe that very many website visitors actually visited the clinic today? On the other hand, if your goal is to attenuate visit volumes on busy days, could you come with a better way to discourage clinic visits?

It’s not a new idea, and we have generally discouraged placing wait times online for several reasons:

  • Wait times may be high now. But you may be caught up in 30 minutes, which may be the time that it would take a visitor to your website to drive to your center. Patients are interested in the wait time for when they arrive at the clinic, and that has little to do with the current wait time in the clinic.
  • Staff will likely exaggerate wait times. It is human nature for staff to want to reduce their workload.
  • The term “wait time” is ambiguous. What is a “wait time?” Time that you will wait to see the doctor? That’s probably what most patients think. Or is it the throughput time for patients? That’s what many centers mean, but this time is often over 60 minutes, even when time to see the doctor is really under 30 minutes
  • Patients won’t necessarily come in later. They may choose to go to another center. Is that what you want?

Patients aren’t so much worried about the wait times for everyone else in a clinic, they are really concerned about what their own wait time will be. Is there a way to control that? Yes. Practice Velocity’s client clinics use our ZipPass® product for FREE. With the click of a mouse, visitors to the urgent care website (and visitors to the center’s directory page) can “get in line, online.” The software automatically uses the algorithm selected by the center to determine the next available appointment. This accomplishes three important goals for the urgent care center:

  • Operations Efficiency: ZipPass smooths out patient flow, by pushing appointments out when the clinic already has many patients in the clinic.
  • Patient Convenience: Barring an emergency patient visit, ZipPass holders are first in line when they get to the clinic. What a great deal! Who cares how long the line is; they are first in line. If any other patients seem unhappy with the ZipPass patient “cutting in line,” your staff can simply offer them a brochure about the ZipPass service, “So next time, you can be first in line too.”
  • Marketing Effectiveness: ZipPass converts website visitors into clinic visitors. If you doubt whether this will work, consider this fact: 85% of people who fill out a ZipPass® show up for their appointment.

If the idea of appointments (even same-day appointments) is foreign to your conception of an urgent care, maybe you can look at it this way. Patients are not really making “appointments,” they are simply getting in line from their home or office. Rather than wait in your waiting room, they can wait in the comfort of their home or office. You see more patients. You see them more efficiently. They get the convenience of shorter waits. It seems like a win for everyone involved.

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