A hat tip goes to my friend and fellow author Naida Grunden for sending me this picture. I have seen similar signs in many waiting rooms as both a patient and a consultant.
Sometimes the sign says to talk to the receptionist or clerk if you’ve been waiting 15 minutes – this one says 30. It’s an arbitrary specification about how long is “too long.”
When I look at the sign, it seems first to be an indicator that this occurs often enough for it to be an issue. This sends a message to the patient that says “you’re likely going to have to wait a while,” instead of the intended message of “we care about you and hope you don’t have to wait.”
I’ve always wondered what the receptionist is supposed to do exactly if you’ve waited 31 minutes and you go talk to him. A Lean thinker would probably be asking, “Why are patients having to wait?” There could be any number of reasons – causes and root causes – but the receptionist seems to be the least likely to be able to do anything about the waiting problem.
The sign also doesn’t account for people who arrive 45 minutes early for their appointment :-)
What can the receptionist do? She could say, “I’m sorry” or even “I’m really sorry, this hardly ever happens” (although that might be an ill-advised lie). The receptionist might, at best, be able to explain why the wait has occurred (although that wouldn’t necessarily be a sure thing).
Seeing Naida’s sign made me think that it would maybe have more of an effect on improving the process (and preventing future delays) if the sign listed the CEO’s cell phone number and encouraged you to call her if you had waited too long.
The CEO (or maybe even the department director, if you listed his number) is more likely to be able to fix the system. Maybe if they were annoyed by enough phone calls (I mean, made aware of the waiting times), they would be inspired to help improve the system?
There are many times when I’ve needed or wanted a sign like that in a bleak windowless exam room that seemed more like a jail cell (and solitary confinement, at that!). Where is the sign that says that I should call somebody or pull a fire alarm or send a snippy tweet if I’ve waited in that room more than 30 minutes? Oh wait, I already feel empowered to send a snippy tweet without a sign directing me to do so. :-)
Putting up a sign is (relatively) cheap and (definitely) easy. But maybe leaders should work together with staff and physicians to reduce the waits – and then the sign can come down?
About LeanBlog.org: Mark Graban is a consultant, author, and speaker in the “lean healthcare” methodology. Mark is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. Mark is also the VP of Customer Success for the technology company KaiNexus. He lives in San Antonio, Texas.