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The doctor will see you … soon

The nurse calls your name. You may think, “Finally.”

Time seems to stop in the clinic waiting room.

But according to, a consumer marketplace for health care information, in 2012 this region’s patients had among the shortest wait times in the nation. Wisconsin’s average wait time was 16 minutes and 29 seconds; Minnesota’s was about 40 seconds longer.

Alaska came in with the shortest wait time — just one second less than Wisconsin’s time. Mississippi had the longest wait in the doctor’s office – 24 minutes, 25 seconds on average.

The Mayo Clinic Health System’s River Region strives to beat even the best times and, according to process improvement manager Vaughn Bartch, does so at every clinic on average. That’s because time isn’t just money, it’s health.

“The patient experience is better,” he said. “Their outcomes are better.”

He works with the medical centers in Red Wing, Cannon Falls and Lake City plus clinics in Plainview, Wabasha and Zumbrota on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River and Alma and Ellsworth on the Wisconsin side.

“Not only do staff members ‘get it,’ we’ve also engaged all of them in reviewing the data: Where can we find waste within our system? Are we doing things right while adhering to national standards, best practices?” he said.

Patients can find a prominent clue to this commitment to better, more efficient visits in most waiting areas: Signs urge them to visit the front desk if they have waited 15 minutes or more. measured the wait from check-in to entering the exam room, but Bartch said that’s merely where the potential waiting begins.

“When we first started examining wait times, we looked at clinic and emergency room times,” he said. “We actually started by doing observation, mapping out process from schedule to discharge and follow-up on results. Staff members followed a patient through the entire experience. We took it from the patient perspective, not the staff perspective.”

In fact, a smooth, efficient clinic experience starts as the appointment is made. Bartch said a staff member asks specific questions to schedule the proper amount of time.

A flu shot, for instance, requires minutes. A person newly diagnosed with diabetes needs help with diet, medication, exercise and laboratory values, which means a longer visit.

“It’s a careful balance — short wait times, but still allowing patients adequate time with care providers,” Bartch said.

While tracking patients’ experiences, Mayo Clinic Health System staff also measured wait times between each step in the visit. How long was the person waiting between the time the nurse leaves the room and the provider enters? How long did a patient wait between having blood drawn and getting results, and then seeing the provider again?

As part of efficiency, clinics are moving toward having lab staff draw the patient’s blood in the exam room. X-ray and lab results will occur simultaneously when possible, and staff will conduct small procedures during the wait.

Clinics also have standardized the type of information asked, so no matter where a patient is seen in the Mayo Clinic system, providers will have access to what they need via system-wide electronic medical records. That means no more redundant questions, Bartch said.

It all comes down to improving the patient’s experience.

“Better outcomes, higher safety, plus better service will cost less.

That really is the pivot point for health care as a whole,” Bartch said.

The top five states with the shortest average time patients wait to see a doctor are:

Alaska — 16 minutes, 28 seconds

Wisconsin — 16 minutes, 29 seconds

Minnesota — 17 minutes, 8 seconds

New Hampshire — 17 minutes, 10 seconds

North Dakota — 17 minutes, 43 seconds

Anne Jacobson

Anne Jacobson has been editor of the Republican Eagle since December 2003. 

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