hospital appointments walkins comparison

Are Walk-Ins More Efficient Than Appointments?

Appointments are the most common hospital queue management system used today.

They kind of work like a restaurant reservation. You call your doctor, discuss your and their availability, and then reserve a specific hour for your health checkup.

The idea is simple — by knowing exactly how many patients have to be attended to and when, hospitals and doctors can prepare themselves accordingly.

Therefore, the primary purpose of using appointments is to avoid unpredictability in patient flow.

But how well are appointments fulfilling their goals? It’s time to find out.

The Argument For Appointments

Without a proper mechanism for queuing at hospitals, walk-ins are a management disaster waiting to happen. If there’s a sudden increase of patient flow, the hospital suffers from being understaffed.

Lack of clear communication, long wait times, and frustrated employees can all lead to terrible customer experience. In healthcare, as in any retail business, this results in a fast drop in customer loyalty and revenue.

In such a situation, appointments can indeed help ease the burden of a hospital, though they still are a second-best solution. It’s not that appointments are good, but that walk-ins are hard to manage.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Why are appointments a bad method of queuing at hospitals?

The Shortcomings of Appointments

hospital wait times

The idea that appointments work exactly the way we expect them is flawed. There are way too many assumptions we make that are simply unrealistic.

There’s a long list of problems with appointments, so let’s start with the obvious one.

Late Arrivals

On paper, appointments sounds like a logical way to queue up.

However, same as any other utopian concept, it only works if we assume that everyone behaves in the right way. If all patients arrive exactly when they’re expected to, there shouldn’t be any problems, right?

The truth, however, states otherwise.

People are not ideal and, for one or another reason, they can be late. And once a single person is late, everyone else in the queue is forced to take longer that the agreed time.

This multiplication effect eats up a lot of time that could have been used more productively.

Late arrivals aren’t something done by limited few people. A YouGov poll found that one in five Americans arrive late for work at least once a week.

If just a fraction of the scheduled appointments are delayed by late arrivals, the entire day at the hospital gets disrupted.

Session Length

Another assumption that doctors make is that they can accurately predict how long they’ll take with each patient. Of course, doctors allow for certain deviations from the standard session length, but the problem still stands.

While individual cases are fine, cumulatively they can lead to a lot of time being wasted. It’s the same as with late arrivals — if a patient takes too long, the next patient has a longer wait time despite coming on time.

If, on the other hand, a patient takes only a part of the time allotted, there’s no one to fill in the remainder of doctor’s hours.

In the former case, at least the time is used for treating patients, no matter how long it takes. In the latter case, the time is simply being wasted.


As you might have already guessed, no-shows are patients who miss their appointments without notifying their doctors in advance.

Why are some patients compelled to do so?

A study about patient no-shows found that 44% of the participants cited lack of respect in healthcare as the main reason for not showing up. Many patients believe that hospital staff does not respect enough their time, opinions, and feelings.

Poor customer experience is what causes more no-shows. When patients expect bad treatment, they end up missing their appointments for good.

This isn’t a minor inconvenience, either. The doctor’s entire planned schedule is held up by each missed appointment. No-shows have a direct, negative effect on the hospital’s efficiency and revenue.

A medical research found out that the average cost of no-show per patient was $196 in 2008.

Urgent Care

Finally, we cannot ignore patients who find themselves in need of urgent treatment. The last thing you want to do when you’re in pain is spend hours, if not days, waiting in a queue.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens when we’re talking about hospitals with ineffective queuing systems.

A survey of physician practices found that for a new patient to get an appointment, the average wait across 5 medical departments was 18 and a half days. That’s almost three weeks’ worth of wait time!

And in some cases, this period is even longer. For instance, in the city of Boston, the average wait time to get a doctor’s appointment is 72 days.

While there are ways to distinguish your needs as urgent or non-urgent, this is still a system that just doesn’t work for patients.

Changing the Narrative Around Walk-ins

patient check-in

The entire debate about walk-ins versus appointments is based on one assumption — that walk-ins cause chaos and confusion.

This is true, but only partially. Walk-ins are only chaotic if you mismanage them.

There is a simple way to automate your hospital queue management. A queuing system like Qminder allows patients to self-register, gives patients waiting in line clear information about expected wait-times, and allows hospitals to gather valuable data.

Let’s see how each of these contribute to extraordinary customer experience.

Self-Registration vs. Sign-In Sheets

Especially during peak patient flow hours, self-registration replaces a huge amount of manual paperwork. This makes your patients feel independent and in control of the situation, thus helping you manage your hospital queues the right way.

It also allows them to tag themselves with details about their medical history like allergies. This further streamlines the queuing process, as doctors have more information available up front and in real time.

Based on patient needs, doctors can make split-second decisions, or better still, have multiple queues created automatically.

Why would you need that?

Because patients often have to go through multiple stages in a hospital visit — X-rays, blood tests, etc. Appointments don’t allow flexibility, forcing you to manually send each patient to the appropriate place.

Administrative Staff Dedicated to Customers

A byproduct of all the paperwork that is required is that your administrative staff is not attentive to customer needs. The most important part of customer experience is to make your patients feel welcome the moment they step into your hospital.

The waiting area shouldn’t be crowded with staff talking on their phones. The staff should instead be warm, helpful and, most importantly, freely available.

Visitor experience is one of the most important aspects of patient management. By engaging your customers immediately, no one feels alienated or unattended to.

With top-class service, you can actually reduce your hospital wait times, by positively affecting your patients’ perception of time.

First Names: An Alternative to Numbered Tokens

While not specific to appointments, the use of numbered tokens is just poor customer service. Patients are made to feel instantly comfortable when referred to by their first names.

What seems like a minor detail could be the distinguishing factor between you and your competitors. Long story short, hospitals should never ignore the positive effect of greeting patients.

Hospital Data Collection

Historical data about the volume of patient flow, most common reasons for visits, and average session length can turn your hospital into a data-informed business. Your hypotheses stop being random assertions and are backed up by actual data.

This greatly increases the efficiency of your hospital. The data collected affects everything, from your staffing decisions to your communication with patients.

When trying to turn your hospital into an efficient facility, it’s important to make the most out of data.

Implement a Queue Management System in Your Hospital Today

patient check-in system

Although hospital appointments are an established way of managing your patients, there is a great benefit to switching to walk-ins.

With the right queue management system, hospitals can reduce their wait time and provide the experience their patients have always wanted.

What’s more, systems such as Qminder don’t require complicated installation or staff training. It can be set up in minutes, with valuable data becoming available in just a few days.

Inefficient queuing systems are a sure way to scare away even your most loyal visitors. Sign up for a to see how a first-class hospital experience looks like.

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