Why Are Hospital Wait Times So Long?

managing the queue at hospitals and clinics Unorganized queues are always a miserable experience.

But there’s a difference between standing in line for coffee, and standing in line when your health is at risk.

What makes queueing in hospitals extra stressful is waiting line mismanagement. When you need medical attention, the last thing you want is a long queue with no way of knowing how far in the queue you are.

But the worst part is, people started getting used to it. Whenever you are in a hospital, patients sigh, hang down their heads and say: “Well, it’s always been like this, right?”

Yes, but it doesn’t have to be.

Wait Times at Hospitals, Explained

queue management in hospitals

It’s ironic how hospitals deal with health issues, while long hospital wait time became an epidemic.

The problem is not that hospitals have long queues, it’s that queues make up for the larger part of a hospital visit. It’s not a single queue either — there is a number of smaller queues involved: front desk, X-ray, blood test, etc.

One study claims that majority of patients (78.1%) spend 2 hours or less on the queue before being seen by doctor, and less than 1 hour to actually see the doctor.

For something as time-sensitive as healthcare, this spells disaster. And patients know as much.

Every aspect of patient experience — from confidence in the care provider to perceived service quality — correlates negatively with longer wait times. This dissatisfaction affects not only the patients’ mood, but the working environment in general.

Worse still, it affects their health as well. Long wait time can lead to adverse health effects such as stress, anxiety or pain.

By mismanaging queues, hospitals go against their express purpose and make their patients feel worse.

Solving Hospital Queues

Most hospitals and clinics try to improve their wait time by scheduling appointments.

Appointments seem like a logical, clear-cut solution: you register in advance and come at the agreed time. But instead of saving everyone trouble, appointments often make the situation even worse.

This concerns every medical specialty and department imaginable.

A plastic surgeon Dr. Anthony Youn says that one third of his patients arrive at least 10 minutes late. This, by itself, causes delays but when you multiply it by a number of people extending their visit to the doctor, your “agreed time of visit” may move up by an hour or more.

Clearly, appointments are not the answer hospitals were looking for.

Instead of trying to solve the problem with small fixes, healthcare needs to take a long, hard look at the way the queues are organized, and realize they’re due for a much-needed makeover.

Queue management systems such as Qminder improve wait times by optimizing the process of signing in for services. It is a solution that engages both the patients and the staff, making each visit more streamlined and personal.

Thanks to our years-long partnership with a number of medical facilities, we can see exactly how queue management systems help make hospitals a better environment for everyone.

Here’s what we found.

How Patients Benefit From QMS

patients queue at hospitals and clinics

If there is one word that’s become synonymous with “hospital queues”, it’s “anxiety”.

The goal of a queue management system is not only to reduce wait time, but also reduce the negative feelings associated with waiting. It does so through relevant information and personalization.

Let’s start on the first one.

As anyone who has experienced queues knows, the longest wait is the one you cannot control.

When you know where you are in the queue and when your turn is, it lowers actual and perceived wait time. QMS eliminates confusion, effectively stepping in as a front desk receptionist.

Queueing solutions such as Qminder have instructions available in different languages. If a patient is living in a bilingual country, he can choose between either language — plus all the other languages that the staff wants to include.

Fast data processing encourages and simplifies follow-up feedback, making it easier to improve the hospital experience for both the staff and patients.

Now, onto personalization.

Being more personal might sound like a lot of work, but even something as simple as using a patient’s name will do the trick. We’ve talked about the benefits of personalization for businesses, but it goes double for medical institutions.

Everyone loves hearing their name — in fact, our brains light up at the sound of our names.

Studies show that knowing and using the names of your visitors makes people see you as more competent. Being on a first-name basis with your patients is an important part of making them feel like individuals.

Take-a-number system, on the other hand, creates an invisible barrier between the patient and the doctor. No one likes to be just a “support ticket”.

After all, names were invented for a reason.

Every step in the patient journey affects the experience of the patient, and long queues are not an aspect to be ignored. Through optimizing patients’ visit, QMS becomes more than a queue management tool — it is a patient management solution.

How Medical Staff Benefits From QMS

medical staff benefits

From a standpoint of a medical professional, the hospital is a never-ending sequence of issues, questions, and random walk-ins.

How does queue management come into play?

First of all, a QMS takes the hassle out of the equation by letting patients register themselves. Since it’s a multi-language solution, receptionists don’t need to double up as translators.

This frees up the front desk, allowing the staff to concentrate on the essential part of their jobs.

Secondly, queue management systems improve the way things are without disrupting the existing workflow. Queueing solutions are intuitive and easy to install, so there’s no need for technical support or training classes.

Anyone can operate a queue management dashboard.

Thanks to QMS, hospitals can use their resources — staff, equipment — in a more meaningful way. There are records of daily visitors, queue lengths, and visits based on day of the week. You can also look up each individual wait time and service time.

A queueing solution lets you see, at a glance, how many patients each doctor or nurse attended to and how fast their service was.

This data helps identify areas for improvement and boosts staff morale by making their contribution seen. Not to mention, high patient satisfaction that comes with the use of a queueing system improves the working environment.

Bottom line: When people are in the know, they feel themselves in control.

A Day in the Life of a Patient

long queue unhappy patient

Now, “enhance patient experience” and “improve operational efficiency” both sound good on paper…

… but how would a queue management system at a hospital look like from the viewpoint of an average Joe?

Let’s meet him right now and find out.

So, Joe Average is sick. In fact, he’s been sick for some time, but whenever he thinks of going to a hospital, he imagines long waiting lines and stays home instead.

This time, it’s different. He heard from a friend about a hospital where queues are not a problem, so he checks it out. First thing Joe sees when he walks in is a tablet stand that greets him in three different languages.

Once Joe enters his name, he’s ready for a numbered ticket to appear, but the tablet only congratulates him on his successful registration.

Strange, but maybe they ran out of ticket paper?

When Joe looks up, he sees a giant TV screen with several names written on it. He even sees his own name.

A simple gesture, but it makes him feel welcome here. Plus, it’s way easier to follow than a numbered ticket, which Joe could never memorize and had to look up every other minute.

For the first time in his life, he joins a queue without the need to ask, “who’s next in line?”, or hold a piece of paper in his hand.

There are several people before him, but the queue feels manageable now.

Back when hospitals were using tickets, Joe had to spend time calculating how much longer he needed to wait. It was better than unorganized queues, where he could only guess how many people there were before him, but waiting still felt like a chore.

And now, whenever another patient is attended to, Joe’s name moves up.

Meanwhile, thanks to the internal labelling system, doctors can add notes to each patient: how to identify them, which tests they need to do, what allergies they have, etc. If Joe needs some additional services, everyone will know exactly where to guide him to.

Finally, it’s his turn. Let’s wish good luck to Joe!

You may think this example paints too perfect of a picture, but it’s based on real feedback that we’ve gotten from our clients around the world.

Qminder has already been in use by Hospital Corporation of America, St. John’s Medical Center, Cure The 4 Kids Foundation, and the National Blood Service of Estonia. We’ve heard nothing but praises from both patients, medical staff and business analysts.

The overwhelmingly positive feedback tells us that we are on the right track, and the healthcare industry only stands to benefit from implementing queue management systems.

A Cure for the Long Wait Epidemic

Though healthcare deals with people’s issues rather than needs, it centers around the same thing as retail — service experience.

Medical facilities need to find the balance between heavy patient flow and quality care, and the best way to do that is by installing a queue management system.

Benefits of the Qminder queue management system:

  • Streamlines patient flow across all departments.
  • Improves level of service.
  • Personal approach makes visitors feel welcome.
  • Staff is in control and doesn’t require technical knowledge.

In short, Qminder simplifies every aspect of waiting in line and makes it easier to offer services in the way your patients want.

It’s time to stop taking long, impersonal queues at hospitals for granted. Sign up for a free 14-day trial and start putting “hospital” in “hospitality”.

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