I was at a restaurant a couple of weeks ago and it wasn’t particularly busy but the food was very slow to come. The waitress I had was great. As soon as I was seated she told me that one of the cooks had called in sick and that it was taking longer than normal to prepare food. She told me that the best cook the restaurant has was in the kitchen and he takes pride in the food he prepares so he wasn’t going to cut any corners because he wants the food to be as good as advertised. She even suggested that if I know what I want to order that I go ahead and do so because she would get the order in quicker. She then said because the wait would be a little longer than normal she wouldn’t charge me for drinks and she suggested a couple of different appetizers that would come out quick because she could put them together herself.
I wasn’t in a hurry so I decided to stay. I ordered a drink and took her up on the chips and salsa appetizer and told her I’d look the menu over for a few minutes prior to ordering. About 5 minutes later she came back with my drink and appetizer and I placed my order. From the time I ordered until my food came, which took about 20 minutes, the waitress was at my table every 5 minutes to give me an update on my order and to see if I needed a refill of my drink or more chips and salsa. After delivering the food she continued to be very attentive and even asked if I thought I might order dessert because she wanted to get the order in right away so that I wouldn’t have to wait any longer. I didn’t want desert but at the time my check arrived so did a piece of the restaurant’s signature pie in a to go box free of charge.
I was impressed with my waitress, she was respectful of my time, she kept me informed of delays and she provided excellent service. In the end, I didn’t even realize my food took longer than planned to prepare. Restaurants provide a service, sure the good you purchase is food but the service is what sets one restaurant apart from another. The same is true of health care. Hospitals provide a service. I realize hospitals provide emergency medicine and in those situations timely service is what’s most important but for the vast majority of our patients quality of service is much more important than timeliness of service.
Delays happen in health care, there’s no way around it. We deal with complex situations and the system we function in has a lot of moving parts. Babies are born, equipment breaks, bad news has to be shared, good news gets to be shared, people don’t understand, people have questions, the list goes on and on as to why things don’t go as planned and for the most part our patients understand. Just like the waitress I had we have to keep people informed when delays occur. It’s one thing to wait, it’s another to wait when you know how long the wait will be and what’s causing the delay.
Here’s an example of how keeping patients informed of delays can be done in our setting. One day our Oncology Clinic was behind for one reason or another and the waiting room was full. Between patients one of our Oncologists stepped into the waiting room and said the following to the patients in the room, “I apologize that we’re running behind. One of the patients I saw this morning had a lot of questions about treatment options and I spent some extra time with her. Please be patient and I promise that when I see you I will spend as much time as you need and I will be sure to answer any questions you might have”. You could feel the mood in the waiting room change from anxious to understanding and every 15 minutes after one of the staff from OTC was in the waiting room providing patients updates on the current status of the schedule.
I’m going to guess that the patient’s who were in the waiting room when the Oncologist took time to explain the reason for the delay still remember that interaction and I’m going to guess they’ve since forgotten how long their appointment was delayed.