stop covid-19 spread by reducing patient wait time

Reduce Patient Wait Times to Stop COVID-19 Spread

As the world comes to grips with COVID-19, most of us find ourselves caught off-guard. The sole exception is the medical industry, which is now tasked with two equally important objectives:

  • to find a cure for COVID-19
  • to stop the virus from spreading

Needless to say, neither of these goals is easy to achieve. The outbreak is hitting healthcare personnel hard, with overtime, multiple shifts and stress becoming the new norm. (And it wasn’t exactly sunshine and roses before.)

To contribute to the cause and help medical providers be at their most effective, we’ve compiled a list of tips on what hospitals and clinics should be doing to simultaneously:

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Eliminate lines with virtual sign-in and queuing

First things first, hospitals need to empty their lobbies, so that there would be fewer opportunities for the virus to spread.

Setting up virtual queues is a good way to avoid patients waiting physically at your location.

The way this works is that a patient checks into a virtual queue through a smartphone queue app or online patient portal.

Patients can fill out and submit their own paperwork online, allowing physicians to collect vital patient info in advance.

Once checked in, patients start receiving SMS text messages or other notifications alerting them of their current queue status or possible delays. When their turn comes and your staff is ready to call them, they can visit the location to receive care.

In the meantime, they can be in the safety of their homes or cars. Virtual queuing helps regulate attendance and disperse crowding in lobbies and waiting areas while still providing the comfort of knowing your queue status.

Ultimately, online self-scheduling encourages the practice of social distancing and reduces contagion.

Manage check-ins and peak hours

You cannot reliably avoid outpatients flooding in, even in the current circumstances, without an efficient queue management system in place.

The goal should be to:

  1. decrease the number of patients waiting at any one time
  2. prevent a backlog of waiting patients

A digital sign-in kiosk helps patients check in themselves, at their own pace, eliminating the need for physical lines. Same as with virtual queuing, patients supply you with vital information, allowing you to prepare for their treatment in advance.

A physical queue management system does come with its serious drawbacks, however.

As the screen of the sign-in kiosks is frequently touched by visiting patients, you should regularly disinfect it with alcohol-based wipes. Also, consider providing all visitors with a hand rub.

As the safety of patients should be your top priority, we suggest using a contactless patient management system instead. For example, having a patient scan a QR code on arrival to enter a queue.

The advantage of having automated queuing processes is that it helps save time by separating duties. Managing check-ins manually, with no queue system in place, is as disruptive as taking care of appointments by phone.

Speaking of phones…

Substitute phone work with SMS messaging

If you’ve ever had an appointment at the doctor’s, you’ve probably gotten an appointment reminder call. This is a standard procedure for hospitals to reduce no-shows or communicate with patients about delays, but it’s not as reliable as once thought.

Nowadays, more and more hospitals tend to text their patients instead of calling them, and this reliance on text messaging should be the new norm.

The details of a phone call can be easily forgotten or misunderstood, whereas text reminders are accessible and provide context.

Moreover, the call could be made at an inopportune moment and not come through. We’ve all missed at least one call in our lives because of showering, loud television, or setting the phone on mute.

Text messages, provided that they’ve been sent out in advance, can be read and responded to at your own leisure.

Thus, cutting down phone work saves time not only for hospital personnel, but for patients, too. In Secure Messaging: Myths, Facts, and Pitfalls, Rachel Franklin, MD has said:

Adopting secure messaging not only has helped us provide more satisfying, efficient, and effective patient care with no more hassle, but it also has helped us meet the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s requirements for patient-centered medical home certification, which has helped us obtain higher reimbursements from certain payers.

Provide telemedicine during the coronavirus outbreak

An alternative to virtual queues is the use of virtual visits via telehealth solutions. Treating patients over the distance helps contain the spread of the infection, thus reducing the risk of further contamination.

Telemedicine lets people talk to a nurse or doctor online to receive guidance whether you need to be seen by a medical professional. This way, patients can be safely monitored at home and not be exposed to crowded waiting rooms.

If there is a need for physical examination or testing, the hospital and staff will be able to prepare for the patient’s arrival:

  • an isolation room
  • protective gear
  • staff safety protocols.

“The use of telemedicine is going to be critical for management of this pandemic,” says Dr. Stephen Parodi, an infectious disease specialist and executive with The Permanente Medical Group.

Engaging in virtual treatment can lower wait times appreciably and free the physician’s time by letting them handle less severe cases remotely.

Use surveys to find slow spots in patient care

The opinion of patients matters. 61% of physicians have heard negative feedback from their patients regarding wait times, but this number could be even higher if we could give the voice to the often-voiceless.

Hearing their thoughts on the matter is about more than just putting yourself in their shoes. Patient feedback can help you notice speed bumps and identify critical bottlenecks in your patient treatment flow.

Track each patient’s timeline from arrival to the moment they leave — in both the front office and exam room — to get an accurate picture of the patient journey.

Having digital means of checking in helps with establishing this line of communication. When patients are able to voice their concerns comfortably and in confidence, this makes them more likely to be truthful and critical.

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Long waiting times for treatment in the outpatient department followed by short consultations has long been a complaint.

Banishing wait times altogether at hospitals may not be a possible goal. However, the current COVID-19 crisis demands serious consideration of healthcare practices and protocols.

Another way to speed things up is by creating predetermined multidisciplinary treatment protocols for patients who fit certain descriptions.

“For major illness categories like abdominal pain, chest pain, or head injuries, create special patient protocols. These bundle nursing procedures, physician’s orders, and suggested lab tests and other tools,” argues MedPro Disposal.

Whichever way your hospital or clinic chooses, you need to make sure that your patients feel safe. This means you need to employ a reliable, HIPAA-approved queue management system.

Get a free 14-day trial of Qminder. We will get you up to speed in no time and offer our guidance every step of the way.

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