According to the Washington Post, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald compared waiting for care at the VA with standing in line for a Disneyland attraction.
Mr. McDonald said, “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is: what is your satisfaction with the experience?”
The correct answer is that it’s all important. Yes, the overall experience matters, especially when it comes to our health. But wait times and courtesy are all part of the customer experience.
Why wait time matters.
Leading public hospitals like the Mayo Clinic take pride in providing their patients with a schedule and then keeping to the timeline. The VA, however, has a poor reputation for making veterans wait too long – some so long that according to critics, they may end up dying before they receive care.
Disney continually measures wait times and the resulting frustration that waiting can cause. The TV sets you see in doctors’ waiting rooms? Thanks, Disney. Disney continually provides their customers with information, including signs with reassuring remarks like, “At this point you are 20 minutes from the ride,” and distractions in the form of TV commercials on sets they place near the lines. They don’t try to hide or ignore the fact that their customers are waiting. Rather, they do their best to alleviate the frustration by providing acknowledgment and reassurance.
The fact remains that the interval from request to gratification is a key indicator of satisfaction.
Patients – and customers – often will excuse a delay if they know they’re going to receive good care. At hospitals and businesses known for their customer care, you may hear, “I had to wait two hours, but then the process went smoothly.” You will never hear: “I got right in and the process went smoothly, but I would have been just as happy if I would have waited two hours first.”
There is no “one thing” that’s important to measure.
I love the idea of the VA system. These providers are equipped to treat the complex, chronic, unique medical issues our veterans face that are not well-understood or commonly seen by the general medical community. When I was doing my clinical hours to become a paramedic, I helped the medical staff work with surgical patients at the VA. I was impressed with the staff and the facility. However, on a larger scale, they have a long way to go with acknowledging and managing patient wait times and the frustration that inevitably follows.
Sorry, Secretary McDonald, you are wrong on both points. There’s no “one thing” to measure that will give the VA – or any of us – the key to customer satisfaction. And, like Disney, all organizations should measure wait times as part of the customer experience, regardless if the results are positive or negative. Either way, we can always do better for our customers.