BACKGROUND: This study examined the relationship between patient waiting time and willingness to return for care and patient satisfaction ratings with primary care physicians. METHODS: Cross-sectional survey data on a convenience sample of 5,030 patients who rated their physicians on a web-based survey developed to collect detailed information on patient experiences with health care. The survey included self-reported information on wait times, time spent with doctor, and patient satisfaction. RESULTS: Longer waiting times were associated with lower patient satisfaction (p < 0.05), however, time spent with the physician was the strongest predictor of patient satisfaction. The decrement in satisfaction associated with long waiting times is substantially reduced with increased time spent with the physician (5 minutes or more). Importantly, the combination of long waiting time to see the doctor and having a short doctor visit is associated with very low overall patient satisfaction. CONCLUSION: The time spent with the physician is a stronger predictor of patient satisfaction than is the time spent in the waiting room. These results suggest that shortening patient waiting times at the expense of time spent with the patient to improve patient satisfaction scores would be counter-productive.
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