No one likes waiting in waiting rooms. Especially if one is sick or has a loved one in a hospital ward. Realizing this, medical clinics and hospitals made many changes to make the experience more bearable. COVID-19 shifted these efforts, making safety the priority for patients and staff. We’ll be covering some of the new technologies and systems that came out of this shift like the use of medical computers at check-in. 

COVID-19 Say Goodbye to Comfort

Waiting rooms are buildings or a part of one, where people sit or stand until the event or appointment for which they are waiting begins. 

No one likes waiting, especially in medical facilities. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for a doctor’s appointment for a routine checkup, a follow up, or as a walk-in at the dreaded Emergency Room. One survey says up to 63 percent of patients say waiting is the most stressful part of their appointment

Medical groups are actually surveyed about their waiting rooms. This is part of the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey. Poor ratings can affect their bottom line as patients stop returning to the healthcare facility. 

To combat these negative perceptions, healthcare groups try to upgrade the waiting room experience by:

  • Natural lighting and views to the outdoors.
  • Table lamps and full spectrum overhead lights.
  • Furniture arrangements allowing for clear lines of sight to the reception desk.
  • A mix of seating styles. Chairs for the waiting room can be clustered together for example so a family of four can face one another. 
  • Aisles wide enough for someone using a wheelchair or walker to maneuver easily. 
  • Carefully chosen artwork to soothe and inspire.
  • Refreshment areas offering water, coffee and tea. 
  • Free Wi-Fi to keep both visitors entertained.

“Positive waiting experiences and space design are linked with the perception of quality care, a key metric for today’s healthcare organizations,” Steelcase Health notes in its report on waiting rooms. “Well-designed waiting experiences that decrease stress and promote active engagement can help improve patient satisfaction scores both during waiting and subsequent care encounters.”

COVID-19 upended a lot of these experiences. Safety for patients, visitors, and staff became the priority. Medical groups shut down all non-urgent, non-necessary appointments. Many turned to telemedicine to handle such cases. When patients absolutely had to be seen in person like in the ER, waiting rooms enacted new protocols like safe distancing and mandatory masks. 

Many technological solutions were developed during this time. Healthcare groups are looking to continue their use even as the pandemic recedes. 

Reduce Waiting Room Stress with Digital Front Door Strategy

Medical groups and hospitals can minimize a patient’s waiting anxiety even before their arrival at the facility. As covered under Building a Digital Front Door Healthcare Strategy, a well-built website can do wonders in reducing patient stress. 

This is especially true for the homepage. No one wants to waste time looking for the right ER address while in the middle of a medical emergency. Street address, maps, contact information, and hours of operation should be easy to find and current. 

The website is useful even after the patient is in a traditional or virtual waiting room (covered below). Many people in waiting rooms go online to pass time. Healthcare groups should provide virtual experiences for them to browse. A video on common fractures could provide some relief to a family whose child is in the ER for a broken leg, for example. PDFs on diets or blog posts on the latest COVID-19 treatments can also be a positive form of distraction.

Protection Using Kiosks, Pods, Walls, Curtains 

COVID-19 is a communicable disease that is spread by droplets and very small particles containing the virus. Traditional waiting rooms in medical settings were redesigned to minimize contact with such droplets and particles between patients, visitors, and staff.   

Pens, clipboards, and lots of paperwork, which are a normal part of most check-in procedures, were ditched in favor of virtual ones like their smartphones. However, patients who are stressed and in a hurry can forget their mobile devices. To accommodate them, automated check-in kiosks powered by a medical device computer were placed near the entrance of the department. It’s small enough to enable patients to complete registration and fill out all the tickets and forms. It is also optimized for Epic, the most popular EMR. This makes it easy for the healthcare group to keep track of a patient’s needs safely and securely. 

Chairs in waiting rooms were arranged to meet social distance requirements. In the future, waiting rooms could be divided into small, pod-like ones. These would effectively be small rooms within a larger one.

Patients checking in with respiratory illness would be directed into one room, children into another, the elderly in their own pod, and so on. Each one would have its own ventilation system, protecting the patients from cross-contamination. 

Other designs include booths with high walls to offer protection, to plastic curtains to provide similar features. 

Waiting Rooms Go Virtual

Traditional waiting rooms complicate patient visits in two important ways:

  • They increase patient discomfort as they emphasize the waiting process.
  • They are a melting pot for germs, bacteria, and other pathogens like COVID-19. 

A virtual waiting room minimizes that discomfort while reducing risk of exposure to disease for everyone.

Patients usually start by checking in on their smartphone for a doctor’s appointment and filling out all the necessary forms and health details. They then wait to be seen usually in a vehicle or in a nearby location. Most rooms send updates on wait time and any possible delays. 

Some medical groups take this a step further, envisioning the entire parking lot as the new waiting room. That’s the view of Paula Wilson, CEO for Valley Community Healthcare out in North Hollywood, CA. She sees this future parking area organized by department: a pediatrics parking area for children, a women’s services parking area for patients seeking such services, etc. 

When the patient is ready to be seen, staff will escort them from their vehicles and into the exam room. The staff will most likely be carrying medical tablets, which are built to withstand any accidently drops along the way and are easy to clean thanks to an IP65 rating. 

Closing Comments

Waiting to see a provider is a stressful experience for most people whether they’re the patient or seeing a loved one in the hospital. The pandemic dashed healthcare’s efforts to make the experience more pleasant. From it, new technologies arose like the use of medical tablets for patient check-in as well as shifts in thinking like parking lots as waiting rooms. 

If your healthcare organization wants help with how medical computers can make waiting rooms more stress-free, contact a representative from Cybernet. As a true device manufacturer, Cybernet can customize products to meet your specific needs in a timely and cost-effective manner. 

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