No One Likes the Waiting Game
By Janie Tremlett
No one likes waiting in line with seemingly no information about when the wait will end, especially when sick or nervous about seeing a doctor. The frustration doesn’t end when you’re called out of the waiting room. Need to get vital signs captured? X-rays taken? Blood drawn? Most likely each of these steps occur in different locations and with different practitioners.
Confusion on the part of the patients about where to go and who to see, combined with staff confusion about where the patient is in the process, can make for a less than optimal experience for both the staff and the patients. In an age where providers’ revenue is contingent upon their patient satisfaction scores, managing patient flow and delivering a superior patient experience is more important than ever. A few ideas …
Intelligent Patient Queuing
Average wait times by provider or facility can be displayed on queuing display monitors and can be updated dynamically when a patient is called off the queue. For added convenience, patients can be summoned off the queue in method that is preferred by them, whether it be via an SMS text, an email, or a phone call. They don’t have to be tethered to a waiting room chair waiting for their names to be called. Instead, they can grab a bite to eat in the hospital cafeteria or take care of any other issues.
Patient and Family Preferences
It sounds simple, but it cannot be emphasized enough: patient demographics need to be understood. Patients in waiting rooms are often anxious and sometimes frustrated if they’ve been waiting there a while. Giving them a way to keep busy while they wait, over and above the typical waiting room magazines, can go far. Providing toys and games to children in a pediatric waiting room setting makes sense, but how many waiting rooms have you been in that provide Wi-Fi for adults? Likewise, offering entertainment infotainment that is pertinent to a certain demographic — like screening live athletic games in a sports medicine office — would resonate with patients.
We can expect, if you haven’t seen it already, a significant expansion in regards to mobile communication within healthcare. One of the benefits of this expansion is the new ease it brings in communicating with patients. Providers can send reminders about appointment dates and times to patients via SMS as well as give patients insight into expected wait times pre- and during service. Affording patients the ability to communicate to their providers in this same way is key. When a patient can easily and conveniently communicate any delays or early arrivals he or she is experiencing, the hospital staff can then re-route that patient or other patients to accommodate the change in schedule.
With real-time reporting and dashboards, staff can track a patient’s whereabouts and status at any point as well as the time spent in each location. With this information, hospitals and other providers can identify any breakdowns in processes or bottlenecks in certain departments so adjustments can be made quickly. If patients routinely spend too much time waiting to get their blood drawn, staff can be reassigned to the lab so more patients can be seen. Likewise, if a patient is waiting to see the doctor but the doctor is running late, the patient can be directed to the lab to get blood work done if there is availability there.
Way-Finding and Patient Tracking
Way-finding, real-time location systems (RTLS) technologies, and Bluetooth beacon technologies are rapidly becoming part of hospital IT infrastructure. Within the hospital, geo-location services hold great promise for patient flow management, such as being able to guide a patient to locations relevant to their appointment, track assets (such as key equipment used to move or discharge patients), and monitor staff actions, such as time spent with patients and how often a patient was seen.
Patient tracking also enables context-specific messaging for visitors, like targeted health promotion campaigns based on a patient’s specific movements and location. For example, offering reminders to patients to get their annual eye exams as they walk by the eye clinic in a hospital.
Early implementations of way-finding and patient tracking solutions have not married patients’ whereabouts to staff workflow. Tethering these two is helpful so staff can mitigate problems and issues as they arise and where they arise. If staff realize they’re running behind, for example, and a patient happens to be waiting in the hospital cafeteria, the staff could capitalize on their knowledge of the patient’s location and send the patient a voucher for a free coffee or something similar to enjoy during their wait.
Pleasing patients isn’t always easy, but ensuring that they move through their hospital or provider’s office quickly and efficiently can help satisfy them. Leveraging patient self-service, intelligent workflows, and reporting can create an information-rich tool for staff to monitor patient flow and an empowering experience for patients.
Janie Tremlett is GM of patient solutions at Vecna Technologies of Cambridge, MA.