The doctor’s waiting room: We all know it. We’ve all been there. Just thinking about it dredges up negative associations — boredom, annoyance, and even anger.
Dr. Jennifer Meller
Internist, Founder, Navimize
Waiting frustrates patients. What’s less obvious is that long wait times also frustrate doctors. Until now, we as doctors have been powerless to change the inevitability of the paradigm. We’ve always met patients in our offices to deliver care, a system that requires organizing a schedule and providing a space for patients to wait.
Our staff schedules the appointments without knowing how long a particular patient will need on any given day. Often a patient is scheduled for 10 minutes, but they need 20 or 30.
And then there is the daily “unexpected.” A mass is found during a routine annual visit. A patient scheduled for a quick blood pressure check complains of acute chest pain. The hospital calls to gather information about a patient being admitted, and so on.
We know overcrowded waiting rooms and frustrated patients damage our reputations and lead to lost business. We watch our online rankings plummet; five stars for knowledge and bedside manner, one star for wait times. And we see our patients opt for minute clinics and urgent care just to avoid our dreaded waiting rooms. But for years we’ve lacked real solutions to fix this problem.
One silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic was the rapid shift to virtual care and the removal of government-regulated barriers to delivering this care. As we move beyond the pandemic, we know one thing for certain: Both virtual care and in-office care are here to stay.
The healthcare community now realizes that it is imperative to rethink the traditional waiting room. Patients coming in to be seen in person will no longer tolerate crowding into a room with other sick patients for extended waits, and patients being seen virtually will expect a virtual wait to pair with their virtual visit.
The pandemic also helped introduce technology solutions that address the waiting room problem. These solutions range from mobile registration platforms for patients to fill out paperwork online, to texting platforms for patients and staff to communicate before patients arrive, to true virtual waiting rooms that predict schedule delays and send automated notifications to patients in real time.
For healthcare organizations contemplating such solutions, selecting a usable platform is as important as selecting one that is robust and meets system needs. A platform that is easy for patients to interact with and can be easily accessed by staff will drive ready adoption.
Designing a simple-to-use platform is often a complicated endeavor, so when selecting a platform, it’s helpful to understand whose input went into the product design. A product designed with input from daily users — physicians, nurses, practice administrators, or office staff, will have a tremendous advantage over one designed solely by engineers who have never observed office workflow firsthand.
A technology-driven waiting room is a win-win for all stakeholders. Physicians and healthcare organizations are rewarded with efficiency gains, better online reviews, and reductions in burnout from a more seamless workflow. And patients feel empowered because they’re kept informed and their time is respected.