Waiting rooms are associated with one thing: misery. There’s no getting around it. Even the name itself invokes dread — it’s literally a room that’s sole purpose is to wait.
But as any physician, dentist, or nurse can tell you, a grumpy patient is
With doctor shortages and overcrowding, having to linger in a waiting room — possibly for great lengths of time — may be unavoidable for the near future.
But, the stay in the waiting room doesn’t have to feel like the DMV. Try these ideas to turn your waiting room into a “lobby” or, if you’re lucky, even a “lounge.”
How Technology Can Improve the Waiting Room Experience
Time in a waiting room is generally wasted, but it doesn’t have to be.
Consider a medical panel PC or medical tablet as a sign-in computer for patients. A properly configured terminal could allow patients to check in, take copayments, input medical history, answer questions about risk factors, sign consent forms, and even get help with languages and translation.
Now, every patient walking in and manipulating a touch screen computer might seem a bit worrisome where it comes to germs and nosocomial infections. That’s where an antimicrobial housing is especially useful, proving the benefit of a dedicated medical computer over an off-the-shelf consumer model.
Still, placing a small antibacterial wipe dispenser near the medical panel PC or tablet would allow patients to wipe it down before use. And if you’re worried about a constant flow of cleaning fluid damaging the computer, that’s another point in the “dedicated medical computer” camp.
Medical computers are often rated IP65, meaning they have an ingress protection rating of 6 for solid particles — which is the highest — and 5 for liquid intrusion, which means they can handle direct jets of water without breaking down.
Keeping Patients Notified
Doctors and dentists have tried different ways of letting patients know when their number is called, and there are more options than just shouting a name as a nurse comes through the door.
The fact is, very few waiting rooms are ever going to be a beloved day-spa, no matter how much time and money you pour into them. And, sometimes, patients just want to stretch their legs or go grab a Diet Coke from the shop next door.
One solution is hardware — those puck-shaped pagers that restaurants sometimes hand out to let you know your table is ready. Some healthcare providers have implemented these at their practice, allowing patients to wander the lobby, go outside, and not feel like they’re so anchored to the hard plastic chair in the waiting room.
If an Applebees can make that kind of system work, most practices can too.
The second solution is software related — either through SMS texting or a specific app. Larger providers may be able to put together an app and notification system, letting patients know through their smartphone when it’s time to be seen by the doctor. It can even push notifications for delays, schedule changes, and helpful tips catered to the individual.
For smaller practices, it’s not difficult to set up an SMS system on a receptionist or nurse’s medical computer that allows them to type a quick text to the patient in question letting them know the same information.
It may seem labor intensive, but so is dealing with frustrated and angry folks who feel like they’re stuck in waiting room purgatory. A little proactive information messaging can make patients happier, make wait times feel shorter, and create a friendlier environment for the staff to work in.
Providing Services in the Waiting Room
Some hospitals and healthcare offices have placed a liaison or concierge inside the waiting room.
Liaisons are also an excellent source of patient engagement. Does your hospital or practice offer educational programs like first-time parent or nutrition classes? Does it have community outreach programs to help feed underserved households? Is there a safe play place on the grounds for kids living in crime-ridden areas?
The liaison can inform patients of these non-medical programs, and can even go around with informational pamphlets to educate those interested, or a medical tablet to allow patients to digitally sign-up right now.
The Doctor Will See You Now
Humans are creatures of our environments — our moods and even health can be deeply affected by the music we hear, the things we smell, and the aesthetics of the space around us.
Consider how a positive waiting room experience can affect practice ratings on places like Yelp and Rate My Doctor, or how a positive or negative picture can spread on social media like wildfire.
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