How Long Are You Willing to Hold?

patient hold time

When you call someplace how long are you willing to hold before you grow irritated? Close your eyes, and slowly count to thirty. That’s about thirty seconds, which is equivalent to five rings. This is also the typical length of a television commercial. Most people are willing to wait that long. 

Now, how long do you want to make your patients hold when they call your office? Again, thirty seconds seems like a reasonable time.

How Long Do People Hold When They Call Your Answering Service?

Next, what about when they call your answering service? Though thirty seconds seems a reasonable standard for them as well, what is the reality that your patients encounter?

If it’s typically a minute, two minutes, or more, how does it impact your patients? Though they’re unlikely to hang up because they have a specific need they want addressed, this doesn’t mean they won’t grow irritated over the lengthy delay. And as the seconds tick by, their exasperation grows. 

And who will they vent to about their frustration? That’s right, you and your staff. You’ll encounter the brunt of their annoyance over what your answering service did. That’s not fair, but that’s how this always plays out.

Answering Immediately Is Not the Solution

Some people ask their answering service to answer every call on the first ring. Sometimes they do, but it doesn’t happen every time. Answering right away on every call isn’t realistic or even feasible. It doesn’t happen in your office, and it doesn’t even happen on your home phone or cell phone. Sometimes it’s not possible to answer right away. Sometimes callers will need to wait. Don’t hold your answering service to a higher standard than what you can accomplish yourself or at your office.

Look at the Average 

Your answering service will answer some calls right away. This is true for most any service. However, other callers will need to hold for a while. This is also true for most any answering service. But don’t look at the outliers. Instead consider the average. 

What’s the average length of time that your answering service places your callers on hold? For bargain providers, it could be a minute or more. That’s unacceptable. However, professional medical answering services strive to keep their average hold time down to thirty seconds or less. This is acceptable. It’s also a best practice.

Ask Your Answering Service About Their Results

If you’re frustrated over the length of time that your telephone answering service places your patients on hold, do some investigation. Ask them what the average hold time is for your callers. They should be able to easily tell you what their average hold-time is for the patients who call your line. 

If it’s under 30 seconds, great! However, if it’s more than a half a minute, ask them what steps they will take to reduce the hold time on your account and get it under control. If it’s high, it’s reasonable to request that they do better, and any quality medical answering service will work hard to meet that goal.

The Best Call-Handling Procedure

Some answering services answer calls as quickly as they can, bouncing back and forth between multiple callers. This wastes a lot of time and causes continuity issues, which is a huge source of errors. 

That’s why a professional medical answering service takes a different approach. They train their staff to focus on one call from start to finish. This is to make sure there’s no potential for error. It also ensures that your patients will get all the attention they need, with 100 percent of the operator’s focus. 

This is the gold standard for medical answering services. It’s also the reason why some callers may need to hold for a few seconds. But when it’s their turn, they’ll receive the operator’s full attention and nothing less. 

This provides the best outcome on every call, every time.


The best medical answering services may need to have some callers hold for a few seconds so they can give their full attention to the patients who called first. This is the fairest way to handle calls. It’s also the best.

Learn how medical answering service from MedConnectUSA can help your practice, clinic, or facility. Then get a free quote to discover how affordable their healthcare communication services are. Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer and call center authority.