Effects of Longer Waiting Time in Health Care - Waittime (2023)

Hospitals or clinics are always the safest places for most sick people. However, the degree to which patients are satisfied strongly relates to the quality of the health care wait time received.

There is no doubt patients spend substantial time in health care waiting for services from the health professionals. However, sometimes patients are made to stay for longer and unexpected times, resulting in several harmful impacts.

What is health care wait time?

Have you ever been to any health care and felt that you had spent too much time waiting than you are served? Of course, in most situations, you will feel you have wasted your entire day.

Therefore, health care wait time is the amount of time a patient is kept to wait before they be could serve by the various health officers.

It encompasses the total time a patient spends registering and following the health care routine, physical appointments. And the time taken waiting for the laboratory results or getting treatment from the results received.

It happens to almost all patients, and it’s perhaps the most frustrating aspect of any clinical and service delivery.

It is a barrier to the free flow of patients and may come with several negative impacts on the patients and the hospital/health care itself.

In a simpler definition, health care wait time could be defined as delayed access to care that makes for a frustrating patient experience. Wait time is also associated with the patients’ perceptions regarding other aspects of care that are not directly related to satisfaction with medical care

What causes prolonged wait times in health care?

Effects of Longer Waiting Time in Health Care - Waittime (1)

Patients waiting to be seviced

Some of the causes may come from the health care side, while the patients themselves cause others.

Patients’ related causes

Sometimes health care wait time can be associated with patients’ perception regarding other aspects of lifestyle that is not related to the health care patients attends are a specific time.

In other words, some causes of longer health care wait times are patient-related. Can be patients’’ beliefs and preferences, among others.

For instance, let’s take a patient who comes to the clinic but leaves a project requiring attention or constant monitoring. This patient would take very few minutes before he/she started complaining of not being served. They might not have taken long. However, their drive is what they have left running.

Another patient-related factor is a large number of patients in a hospital within a specific time. Let’s face reality. You can never control who gets sick and who doesn’t. But when several people get sick, their next stop will be the hospitals.

What happens when the number of patients outweighs the health providers? There will be a long wait queue, meaning long wait times for most patients.

Health care related causes

These may include the organization and functioning of the health system, workforce, or the infrastructure designs and technology use of the health care.

Let’s take a situation where the health care departments are scattered all over the premises. It will make it difficult for a streamlined interdepartmental workflow. The patients would have to walk over a longer distance to find the service they need.

What happens when health care have outdated facilities?

Of course, every patient would want the best services. However, without the latest state of art facilities, any health care is bound to take a long time to serve patients.


Outdated technology slows downtime and services. For example, there is a lot of time wasted when admitting patients to the hospital. All the procedures and paperwork that are to be followed are time-consuming.

However, when a health care center can deploy the latest technology like the Electronic Health Record and others that help take patients’ details and appointments before their service day. They will cut on much time.

Proper health care facilities would help save time, effort, and workforce to ensure easy appointments and services to patient’s satisfaction.

Additionally, some health care may be having inadequate health service providers. You go to a health care center and find there are only one nurse and a doctor responsible for several patients within a day.

These two individuals take records, test, and administer treatment; they must take long, meaning not all patients will be served within that day.

How can health care reduce wait time and improve their patient care?

To boost your patient experience, improving your care services should be your priority. Besides, your overall objective is to ensure you achieve the highest patient satisfaction level and create the most significant awareness among your patients.

You must ensure you curb any medical malpractice within your hospital and be concerned about any poor outcomes that may tarnish your health care brand image and loyalty.

Therefore, as effective health care, you must know that the quality of services you offer to your patients is measured by the quality of your infrastructure and your working staff. Also, your operational systems’ efficiency would determine the perception and quality of your health care.

Therefore, you must ensure you adopt a patient-oriented system. A system that aims to ensure your patients do not leave your hospital lamenting and wishing they could never have set their feet on your premises.

First, you must know for a patient to be unsatisfied, the reasons could have been both the medical and non-medical factors, hospital-related or patient-related, as discussed earlier.

How can you do that?

You have to ensure you put in place or implement a comprehensive system that will improve both the hospital’s aspects, patient-related and medical and non-medical reasons.

Here are some of the factors you must address to ensure patients’ wait time is reduced.

1. Provide adequate and timely information

You must ensure that your patients have prior information on the procedures and processes they are to follow. Just from the health care gate entrance, patients should be aware of the steps they are to follow. The directions to different departments should be clear to avoid patients going around asking for guidance.

When both the medical and administrative information is clear, accessibility is enhanced, meaning the patients will not waste much time finding service locations.

Besides, let the patients know how much time they expect to wait before they are served.

How does this help?

When patients are made aware of the expected delayed access to care, their anxiety and frustration of being kept waiting without reason are controlled. This ensures the relationship is maintained. A patient remains knowing how much longer he/she is to take.

Despite telling patients what is expected, you must also ensure you minimize the wait time they are told about.

2. Offer ancillary services

These are services provided to patients in the course of care. Examples include the provision of ambulances in cases of emergencies, professional nursing, among others.

How can this reduce wait time?

When patients are offered ancillary services like food and maybe their waiting families, it saves them the time of moving in search of what to eat.

3. Employ trained personnel

You are probably asking yourself how training personnel can help reduce wait time in health care. Here is the answer.

When there is enough trained personnel within a hospital, the chance is high that most patients will be served within the shortest time possible. Imagine a situation where several patients (above 300) are to be handled by trained personnel less than 5. How will it be?

The chances are high that the personnel will be exhausted, and some patients may go home unserved. Lack of or inadequate personnel would result in more extended health care wait time for patients. You can also read how safe staffing is critical for patients and health care providers.

Besides, when the health care has the skills needed personnel with well-equipped equipment, better results and performance are the expectations for any patient.

Some other factors that will cut on the health care patient wait time include;

  • Incorporate their patients’ preferences when planning for their scheduling for appointments
  • Provide alternative methods of care service delivery
  • Adopt technology in most of the health care functions (you can use patient management software)
  • Delegate some processes like patient documentation of patient’s data, among others.

What are the effects of long wait times in health care?

Prolonged or delayed access to health care has attracted the public’s attention due to the adverse effects on both the patients and the health care/clinic/hospital.

  1. Negative patients’ perception

The health care patient experience is significantly related or linked and influenced by the amount the time a patient spends in a hospital waiting for treatment. Any increased wait time will affect individuals’ perception of information and sometimes the overall treatment.


Patient satisfaction is a matter of perception. Most patients relate satisfaction with the level of care they receive in a hospital. Very long wait time brings up the image of a mismanaged or poorly disorganized hospital which cannot take care of its patients in time.

Most patients would want to be treated in time. However, when they are kept waiting for a longer time, it affects their psychology at large. It makes the patients think they are not a priority to the health care and its providers, especially when there are unexplained waits.

Wait, there is more to that.

If patients feel they have been waiting for hours, the chances are that they will perceive wait time as more prolonged than the actual wait time. This would increase their anxiety. Have you ever been to the hospital and notice your line isn’t moving? Then you realized some patients just came in and are yet to leave you.

Of course, it’s human nature to second-guess things. You will feel you made the wrong choice of line and, to the extreme, a wrong choice of the hospital where you don’t feel satisfied.

Therefore, patients’ length of time is a parameter for measuring the health care services’ level. And minimize or eliminate the risks of alienating patients, it would be better to understand the patients’ psychology of queuing.

To improve patient perception care, a hospital/health care should;

  • The focus of hospital staff responsiveness
  • Nurse/doctor-patient communication
  • Care transition process and ensure a conducive hospital environment, among other factors.

2. Financial repercussions

There is a strong correlation between wait time and health care ratings. Naturally, it can be argued that a drop in patients’ satisfaction will mean they will most probably look for another better option.

Would you want to deal with health care providers that do not respect your time?

Most patients will not want to be associated with hospitals or any health care center which they feel do not value them.

According to Patient Engagement Hit reports, 30% of patients experiencing delayed access to care due to longer wait time leave before seeing the doctor. At the same time, 20% of them decide to change their health care providers.

What next for the hospitals when their patients do not show up for appointments or shift to other providers?

When patients shift to your competitors or other service providers, you are bound to lose revenues. Let’s take, for instance, the private health care providers who wholly depend on the finance from their patients to run the hospitals’ activities.

If they lose patients, they lose money/revenues, which means some of their activities would have to be stranded. The hospital cannot expand its services when it has no money to come from the patients.

3. Physical injuries and death

Ensuring timely access to health care should be the primary priority of any hospital, and delayed access to care is the cause of several injuries and deaths.

A better example to elaborate the death and injuries in the emergency departments (EDs).

We can all admit that there are several emergencies; however, they can be of different levels.

Therefore, most healthcare centers’ emergency departments face the most challenging facet of choosing who gets to wait or who gets to be served first. But what happens to the other person kept waiting?

Doctors and nurses under many situations have been forced to decide which patients are seen immediately and what diagnostic tests are done first.

How does a longer wait time cause injuries or death?

Have you ever heard of cases where a patient has died on the line waiting to be treated?

Yes, the cases do happen. Let’s look at these two scenarios.


A patient gets into the hospital having fever and muscle pain. However, he still looks strong. This patient is kept waiting in the line for so long to an extent when he’s taken for treatment; the doctors realized they could no longer help him.

May that patient would have been assisted and treated in time. However, the delay in treatment costs him his life. Therefore, health care should know that a delay in treatment may sometimes be extremely detrimental as some diseases may not show severe signs yet can be dangerous.

Scene two.

When accidents occur, the victims are rushed to the hospital. Amongst the patients, there can be some people with minor external injuries. However, they could have internal bleeding.

When such patients are kept waiting in line, their injuries worsen. But since the doctors or the health providers would be concentrating on the “serious bleeding patient,” this patient would be left suffering until he/she passes in line.

Of the two situations, you will realize both the patients would have been helping. Due to longer wait times, the patients could either succumb to death or experience worse injuries.

4. Increased risks of hospital acquired infections

When a crowd of patients is kept waiting within a specific, confined environment, they risk getting Health care Acquired Infections. (HAIs)

What are HAIs?

These are infections or diseases that patients get while receiving treatment. In other words, they are those infections the patients are exposed to while they await treatment.

Who are at risk of contracting the infections?

All the patients within the hospital or health care premises are susceptible to contracting the infections. However, some patients will be at greater risks than others, depending on the conditions.

Let’s have an example of COVID-19 situation where persons with a compromised immune system are at higher risk than individuals with stronger immunes.

Besides, the immune system of the elderly and the children are weak. This means that there are high chances of being infected whenever they are exposed to longer wait times in congested areas with an infected person. (Learn more about the healthcare-acquired infections and the care settings they occur in.)

5. Leads to a damaged hospital reputation

Every business and organization benefits from quality branding. Health care is no exception. A quality hospital brand image should serve as a lead factor in enhancing services, patient loyalty, and satisfaction.

What happens when the hospital image is tarnished?

When patients realized that specific health care is not a concern with their patients, the hospital’s reputation is lowered. The patient would go to other hospitals will better brand image.

You must know that a brand’s primary function is to build and facilitate trust and when patients feel that they cannot trust specific health care, they are bound to leave for another one. This would mean you lost revenue and built a bad reputation that might haunt your functions.

You should know that whatever a patient thinks of a hospital before they visit for treatment is as vital as their experience with the service you provide as a health care. Patients can build a relationship with health care before they visit them.

Here is how consumer relationship works to the advantage of any business or organization;

Brand promise + Brand experience = Relationship.

1. Patient suing health care

The question here is, can you sue a hospital for a longer waiting time?

The answer is yes, mostly when the delay was unreasonable and caused you further pain or injury.

There are several reasons why a patient may decide to sue a hospital/health care center. Delayed access to care resulting in death and other complications is one of them.

Let’s take, for instance, a case of late or misdiagnosis of injuries and illness.

Suppose misdiagnosis that delayed the correct diagnosis happened due to patients waiting for more extended hours before they are served. Such patients can sue the hospital for negligence and misdiagnosis.

When it comes to negligence, once the patients can prove they suffered because they were made to wait while others will have fewer conditions were treated ahead of them, they shall have a case. Besides, patients also have to prove their condition worsening was due to longer health care wait time.

2. Drop on patients’ satisfaction scores

Longer waiting time is negatively associated with lower scores on health care patients’ satisfaction rating. When patients are satisfied, they highly rate the services provided. Therefore, in any health care, you be aware that most patients use wait time to assess the quality of health care they received. Besides, a longer wait time would result in lower satisfaction scores and vice versa.


Providing the best patient care should be the uppermost objective of any health care center and care providers. However, the amount of time spent by patients before they are served can make or destroy any health care’s ambitions of managing patients.

Longer health care wait times may have several negative impacts such as physical injuries and death, increased hospital-acquired infections, and damaged hospital reputation. Besides, when the wait time results in further injuries, patients can sue the hospital for negligence or a misdiagnosis that resulted in delayed correct diagnosis, among other reasons.


What is a negative effect of long waiting times? ›

Long waiting time adversely affects the willingness of the patient to return to the clinic which will highly reduce the utilization of health services [4]. Waiting time in hospitals is an important factor leading to patient dissatisfaction and making discomfort for the patient.

Do waiting times affect health outcomes? ›

The association between longer waiting and worse outcomes is only significant for the longest waiting quintile—however with a larger effect than the overall. Being in the longest waiting quintile is associated with a 0.78 to 1.27 points higher (worse) HoNOS compared to the shortest waiting time quintile.

How do extended wait times affect the quality of patient care delivered? ›

Furthermore, long patient wait times affect not just the perception of care but the actual care that patients receive. In fact, up to 30% of patients have left a physician's office before being seen because of the wait time. Twenty% would consider changing providers over long waits.

Why is wait time important in healthcare? ›

Wait time affects how patients view the level of care they receive: 84% of patients say that reasonable wait time is somewhat or very important to a quality patient experience. In other words, the length of waiting is one of the parameters when measuring the level of care you receive.

What are the effects of waiting lines? ›

Losing Customers

The most obvious effect of waiting in long lines is the loss of customers. Since customers are the lifeline of any business, it is important that they are satisfied (and thus retained) as much as possible.

What are the dangers of delaying medical care? ›

Delays in medical care may increase morbidity and mortality risk among those with underlying, preventable, and treatable medical conditions (Czeisler, 2020, Masroor, 2020, CDC, 2022, Blay et al., 2021, Tapper and Asrani, 2020).

How does wait time affect patient satisfaction? ›

Wait Times Matter

Long wait times are one of the key detractors of medical practices' Net Promoter Score, the measure of whether their patients would recommend them to a family member or friend. 96% of patients' online complaints about their physicians relate to customer-service issues, such as long wait times.

Why do hospitals keep you waiting so long? ›

Most emergencies happen after work hours, at night and on the weekends. When there aren't enough emergency staff present during these busy times, it leads to overcrowded waiting rooms and extreme delays.

Why is it important to provide accurate wait time? ›

Providing an accurate idea of restaurant wait times is a service, is a signal to the customer showing them that a restaurant values their time above everything else. It is a sign of goodwill.

Why is it important to reduce waiting time? ›

Why reduce the waiting time? It's time to improve the customer experience. During my career, I have seen many adverse outcomes caused by long waiting times. For instance, in a hospital, patients get an increased distrust towards the employees when they need to wait for several hours.

Why is wait time effective? ›

This time provides students with time to think about the question and develop a response, either to the instructor's question or a peer's response. As a result, more students may be willing to answer the question and responses may be more thoughtful.

Why is it important to inform patients about wait times? ›

Informing patients of wait delays reduces uncertainty and increases tolerance. Patients want to know how long they have to wait, especially with long waits. The uncertainty of not knowing can cause significant anxiety.

How do you use waiting time effectively? ›

Here is a list of productive things you can do to use—and enjoy—these waiting times:
  1. Relax. If you are having a busy day, this may be a good choice. ...
  2. Call back. ...
  3. Review your planning. ...
  4. Be creative. ...
  5. Learn something. ...
  6. Meditate on an issue or a project you have. ...
  7. Daydream. ...
  8. Socialize.

What is the effect of long queues? ›

Long queues not only discourage customers from even joining the line, but once in the queue, many will walk away and never come back if you make them wait too long.

What are the 10 principles of waiting? ›

The 10 principles of waiting detail the factors that make waits feel longer. The time we wait feels longer when it is: unoccupied, before or after a process, uncertain in duration, unexplained, unfair, physically uncomfortable, or when we are alone, anxious, new to service or the product is cheap.

Why do we struggle in waiting? ›

“When someone is waiting, the cortex is actively thinking about what it means to have to endure the wait,” Rollins says. “The body and mind are on a feedback loop. We overly focus on anticipation and catastrophizing on something unknown, then fear and anxiety increase without cause.”

What are some of the reasons people delay or avoid medical care? ›

Many people who avoid medical care suffer anxiety, fear of death, and fear of being diagnosed with a life-altering condition, among other things.

What are the three delays of care? ›

The "Three Delays" model proposes that pregnancy-related mortality is overwhelmingly due to delays in: (1) deciding to seek appropriate medical help for an obstetric emergency; (2) reaching an appropriate obstetric facility; and (3) receiving adequate care when a facility is reached.

What are the negative effects of healthcare? ›

Health care may cause indirect harm by diverting resources from other determinants of health, such as education, environmental quality, jobs, and income. For example, the cost-effectiveness of education likely exceeds that of many health care interventions.

What is the impact on waiting time on customer? ›

Customers who have to wait longer than expected are 18% less satisfied with their overall experience. What's more, this dissatisfaction doesn't just go away once the wait is over.

What is the waiting time problem? ›

Haldane realized that for long-lived organisms such as Homo sapiens, waiting time for fixation appeared to be problematic (only allowing about 1000 beneficial mutations to be fixed within the evolving pre-human population during the span of 6 million years). This problem came to be known as Haldane's Dilemma.

How does wait time impact the brain? ›

Wait time, or think time, of three or more seconds after posing a question increases how many students volunteer and the length and accuracy of their responses. Having more time to think also increases students' Motivation to respond and supports their Short- and Long-term Memory.

What effect does wait time have on student response? ›

This time provides students with time to think about the question and develop a response, either to the instructor's question or a peer's response. As a result, more students may be willing to answer the question and responses may be more thoughtful.

What happens when customers wait too long? ›

When customers wait for a grudgingly long time they may check out but they'll never return to your store. First impressions matter: one bad experience can scare away a customer forever. After all, research has shown that people are wired to remember negative experiences over positive ones.

Why it is important to keep customers informed about their waiting times? ›

Waiting in Line is a Crime

The uncertainty of customer wait times is stressful and unnecessary. The anxiety you feel when you see a long wait in queues or slowly advancing queue will gradually evolve into annoyance. Which will give way to dissatisfaction and a bad customer experience.

What is the impact of slow customer service? ›

The key effects and impacts caused by poor customer service are customer dissatisfaction, difficulty to attract new customers, incurring additional costs, and losing revenue.

How do you manage long wait times? ›

Here are the best ways to help you solve queuing problems:
  1. Assess and improve your queue management strategy.
  2. Implement digital queuing software.
  3. Keep the rules of queuing fair and consistent.
  4. Design your space to accomodate queues.
  5. Inform customers of the duration of their wait.

What will be the value of waiting time? ›

The critical value of waiting time is estimated from the point on cumulative distribution curve of waiting time frequency distribution, at which the maximum rate of change of the slope of curve occurs.

How can waiting time be minimized? ›

3 ways to reduce wait times & increase customer satisfaction
  1. Implement a virtual queue management system. Virtual waitlist solutions like Waitwhile allow customers to join a digital queue and then wait from anywhere, receiving regular updates on their status. ...
  2. Offer appointment scheduling. ...
  3. Increase speed of service.
Mar 31, 2022

What are the benefits of increasing wait time? ›

Increasing wait time also increases science achievement, and students' participation in inquiry. Research indicates that when teachers increase their wait time to more than three seconds in class discussions, achievement on higher-cognitive-level science test items increases significantly.

What is psychology of waiting time? ›

People are willing to wait longer for a more valuable good, in part because the proportional cost of their wait to the good remains low. If you ask someone to wait for a cheaper or low value good, they will become more annoyed than if they were to wait the same amount of time for a higher value good.

What is the role of wait time in higher cognitive level learning? ›

When waiting time increases, the length of children's responses, the number of meaningful responses, confidence increases, and failures to respond decrease (Rowe, 1978(Rowe, , 1986 Tobin, 1987) .

Why is it important to shorten the perceived waiting time? ›

If people perceive that they're waiting in line too long, they will become frustrated, and their entire retail experience will be diminished.

Why is processing time important? ›

The higher the processing speed, the more efficient you are able to think and learn. Processing speed is the time that lapses from when you receive information until you understand it and start to respond.


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