Effects of Longer Waiting Time in Health Care

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?

Prolonged Wait

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.