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4 Ways to Reduce Urgent Care Wait Times

Wait times are a challenge across the healthcare industry, including at urgent care clinics. Get key recommendations on how to reduce them at your practice.



Thu Oct 06 2022 • 8 min read

4 Ways to Reduce Urgent Care Wait Times

No one likes to wait. But when it comes to urgent care, long wait times are not only annoying, they can also be risky. When people come to an urgent care clinic, it’s usually because of a time-sensitive need. While major emergencies will likely be routed to a hospital, it’s important to understand that many urgent care visits feel like a true emergency to the patient.

Even though patients may present with a range of symptoms – some more critical than others – a visit to an urgent care clinic often feels dire from their point of view. Urgent care patients expect close to immediate attention, which can be difficult to deliver successfully when patient volume is high.

So, given the anxious frame of mind most patients come to your facility with, addressing your wait times is critical to increasing patient satisfaction. And unlike with some other medical facilities, patients often have many choices as to which urgent care clinic to visit. One poor experience can not only dissuade that patient from ever returning to your clinic again, but it can also hurt your brand through negative reviews and word-of-mouth.

Shortening your urgent care wait times is a win-win across the board. You’ll be able to deliver a standout patient experience while bringing key efficiencies to the operations of your clinic. But how do you get this done?

Here are 4 ways you can reduce urgent care clinic wait times.

1. Use a digital queue management system

The best way to automatically reduce the wait times at your urgent care clinic is to use a digital queue management system. This is a platform that allows patients to join a virtual waitlist or schedule an appointment from anywhere and then receive regular updates on their wait status.

Here’s how a queue management system works, step-by-step:

  1. The Arrival. Patients can join your queue virtually and wait from anywhere. This flexibility allows you to provide the check-in options that make the most sense for how your urgent care clinic runs. On-site, you can utilize self check-in kiosks or QR codes to allow new arrivals to join the waitlist. You can also let patients join a queue via text message.

    If you want to provide the option for guests to join before arriving at your location, you can link to your virtual waitlist on your website or – with Waitwhile – even on your Google Maps listing. Additionally, you can geofence your virtual queue. That way, only guests that are within a specified radius of your location will be able to sign up.
  2. The Queue. Once a patient joins your virtual waitlist, they get a precise wait time estimate. In Waitwhile, accurate wait times are delivered using machine learning. They’re tailored to your unique operations, eliminating the chance of human error. If anything changes, estimates are updated in real time and patients are automatically notified.

    Studies have shown that transparency is key to increasing patient satisfaction. A virtual queue management solution will be upfront about the expected wait and automatically update your visitors throughout the process.

    With accurate wait time estimates, patients are free to wait from anywhere. And you get to choose whether or not you want patients to see where they are in the queue. You can make the entire virtual waitlist (and wait estimates) visible to everyone on their personal devices or displayed on a monitor in your physical waiting area.
  3. The Service. When you’re ready for the patient, send them a notification via SMS or email with a click. With pre-programmed messages, your employees will simply have to click a button to deploy detailed, personalized notifications.
  4. Departure. Once a visit is complete, you mark the patient as “served” in your virtual queue management system. If there are multiple steps to your service process (e.g., the patient has to go to a lab or visit the pharmacy), the patient can automatically be entered into any additional queues as required (and then repeat the process from Step 1).

    Once the patient’s visit is complete, your virtual queue management system will log important data about the visit – such as total visit time – and automatically feed that information into an analytics dashboard. You can use these data points to spot critical trends at any number of locations and make meaningful changes to your operations to improve overall patient flow.
  5. Follow-up. Any notes staff may have taken about the patient will be logged to their profile so you can keep track of important details.  To keep the conversation going post-visit and generate repeat business, you can also automatically send customer communications via text or email. Thank the patient for coming as a nice personalized touch. Send them a reminder to schedule a follow-up. Encourage them to leave a review or fill out a survey – or solicit feedback to improve your operations.

The beauty of a digital queue management system is that it automates the entire process of managing a queue while putting the patient in control. Patients will be able to see an accurate estimated wait time before they join the queue, which means that individuals with less pressing conditions might choose to come at a less busy time, reducing wait times for everyone across the board.

Plus, the transparency and flexibility surrounding the wait is key to reducing the perceived wait time. Psychological studies have shown that when people get regular updates on their wait status, their overall wait feels shorter. A digital queue management platform will automatically deliver these updates to patients.  

With a digital queue management system, you also have the option to allow patients to join your waitlists before they’ve even arrived at your urgent care clinic. With that option, patients can wait it out at home however they’d like, reducing overcrowding in your waiting room and making the wait feel shorter. With regular wait status updates, the patient will be able to accurately time their arrival so that they show up right when their turn is coming up.

2. Frontload patient information collection

One significant cause of higher wait times at urgent care clinics is the collection of patient data. Typically, urgent care centers require the patient to physically arrive before collecting their information, which can become time-consuming. Collecting patient information in an urgent care waiting room that is full can be tedious, and it can result in longer waiting times.

One of the best ways to reduce wait times in urgent care is to frontload patient information collection as much as possible. This means that patients should fill out all necessary paperwork and provide any relevant information before they are seen by a physician. By doing this, urgent care staff can spend less time gathering information and more time treating patients. This can help to reduce overall wait times and improve the quality of care.

With a virtual queue management system like Waitwhile, you can integrate this patient information collection into the check-in process. When a patient joins a waitlist either from home or at your clinic, they can fill out all of the required forms online. You can even collect copayments and insurance information at this point, which speeds up the entire service process.

3. Offer a way to book same-day appointments

As we talked about earlier, there’s a range of severity when it comes to the types of conditions people have when they seek out care at an urgent care clinic. Some patients may be more willing to wait than others. For example, patients seeking a vaccine or a diagnostic test may have more flexibility than a patient running a high fever.

One way to reduce wait times overall is to provide a way for patients to book same-day or advance appointments. That way, those with less pressing issues can schedule a time to come in that’s most convenient for them.

With a queue management system like Waitwhile, you can easily add appointment booking to your website. Plus, you’ll be able to manage appointments and waitlists together in a single place. Waitwhile will automatically manage your calendar and account for appointments when delivering wait time estimates to walk-ins and new patients joining your virtual queue.

4. Have a consistent policy for appointment cancellations and late arrivals

It's important to have a consistent policy for appointment cancellations and late arrivals in urgent care centers. This will help reduce wait times overall and ensure that patients are seen in a timely manner.

Urgent care centers typically experience a high volume of appointment cancellations or no-shows. This can be because patients start to feel better before their scheduled appointment or because they find another provider that can see them sooner. While it's understandable that patients may need to cancel their appointments, it's important to have a policy in place to minimize the impact on your operations.

Here are some tips to help you develop a policy that works for your clinic:

  • Appointment Cancellations and No-Shows. Consider requiring patients to give a certain amount of notice before canceling their appointment. For example, you may require 24 hours’ notice for appointments scheduled in advance or a 60 min. notice for same-day appointments. This will allow you to plan accordingly and make sure that other patients can be seen in a timely manner.
  • Late Arrivals. Most facilities have a policy in place for patients who arrive late for their appointments. One way to handle this is to ask patients to call ahead or send a text message if they know they're going to be late. This way, you can plan accordingly and make sure that other patients are seen in a timely manner. If you have a patient that’s running late, a digital queue management system like Waitwhile will automatically reprioritize the queue and update everyone who is waiting with a new wait time estimate.

Case study: ModernMD Urgent Care

NYC’s ModernMD Urgent Care was having issues adapting to the rise of COVID cases at the height of the pandemic while contending with the necessary reduction in the number of patients that could be allowed in the waiting area at a time. The need for social distancing meant requiring people to stand outside in the cold, waiting for their turn to get treatment.

Of course, the clinic didn’t want sick patients waiting outside in freezing temperatures, and as a premier urgent care group, ModernMD decided to fix the system they had in place to handle waiting.

ModernMD started using Waitwhile in order to improve the patient waiting experience. With Waitwhile, patients would now be able to register online and wait for their turn from anywhere – no more waiting in long lines outside in the cold.

The platform also gave the staff at each ModernMD Urgent Care clinic clear insights into patient volume and needs. This helped them triage and prioritize patients for treatment. From a management perspective, the organization was also able to see trends in patient volume so that they could staff appropriately when they were expecting to be busiest.

Within a month of implementing Waitwhile, ModernMD saw an immediate upward trend back to previously extremely high levels of patient satisfaction. Within three months, they were able to get back to pre-COVID levels of patient satisfaction.

Solving the problem of long urgent care wait times

A great waiting experience will do wonders to increase your patient satisfaction, which will have cascading positive effects on your entire business. Key to achieving this is to take a modern approach to your queue management.

A digital solution like Waitwhile will automate your patient flow while critically reducing the wait times at your urgent care clinic. Try it for free below.

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