Some people call it the most wasted real estate in urgent care. It’s a place where germs spread, minutes multiply, and frustration flourishes. It’s your waiting room.
The waiting room is really a throwback to yesterday’s healthcare model, where patients’ time was in the hands of a scheduler who had no real way to predict patient flow from hour to hour. In a patient-focused healthcare model powered by technology, patients control their time and their overall experience. They make choices about how they engage with providers, and decide who they will trust with their healthcare. And they don’t spend time in the waiting room.
Urgent cares that are onboard with this patient-centric movement are looking for ways to improve the patient experience—and that includes minimizing the use of their waiting room, or removing it completely. And while greater patient satisfaction is one positive outcome, there are other measurable benefits for urgent cares, too.
While not every clinic can get rid of the waiting room altogether, there are smart steps everyone can take to phase out this inefficient space and make the wait less painful for patients.
- Save-my-spot options with real wait time transparencyPatients have choices. They make decisions about visiting healthcare clinics in I-want-to-go micro-moments and take action online or on mobile devices. In the on-demand healthcare space, patients really don’t want an appointment—they want to drop in when it’s convenient, see a doctor, and get out quick. The entire urgent care market was built on this principle. So yes, you need an online presence, but not so much for online appointment setting, but to give patients the opportunity to get in line—virtually—before they get to the clinic.Once they’re in line, give them a way to check their actual wait time with a queue they can view either online or in the lobby. A word of caution: once you set patient expectations with queue management, be sure the wait-time information you provide is accurate. Even the most experienced staff can miscalculate wait time. Miscommunication can be worse than no communication and increases dissatisfaction. It may result in patients leaving the office without ever seeing a doctor. Use a solution that collects data in real time, includes both online and walk-in patients, and automatically shares wait times accurately.Clinics that offer patients the convenience of getting in line online are taking advantage of these moments to engage patients before they arrive in the office for a visit. Adding online check-in can reduce the time patients spend in the office prior to their actual appointment which helps to reduce the number of patients in your waiting room.
- Waiting options for walk-insImproving the waiting experience for patients should include everyone, not just those who save their space online. Give walk-ins a save-my-spot option so after checking in, they can decide whether they’ll wait in the waiting room, or leave and come back closer to their expected visit time. By giving all your patients this option, they take control of their time for a better patient experience.
- Queue management solutionsDon’t use separate systems to manage patients that register in different ways. With a queue management solution that lets you handle online registrants and walk-ins in one system, you not only streamline your front desk workflow, but create a transparent, first-come-first-serve patient flow that reduces misperception and anxiety about unfairness.High-visibility signs that direct patients to check in—even if they have made an online appointment—will ensure that every patient is entered into a single queue, allowing patients to flow through the system easily, transparently, and with less frustration.
- In-lobby and online virtual queueThere are fewer reasons to spend time in a waiting room when patients can see their wait status at a glance with a lobby queue or from their mobile device. If you want to get rid of your waiting room, this is a must have option. And just as important, posted wait times shouldn’t be based on an educated guess, but real-time data that accounts for walk-ins and online registrants, so your patients can count on the information seen on your queue. They’ll appreciate a lobby queue if they can sign in and come back during their appointment time. Having the queue available via mobile keeps patients connected with your clinic so they can show up just in time.
- Insurance and financial responsibility pre-verificationAny part of the appointment and check-in process that can be completed before a patient arrives for an appointment can reduce your need for an actual waiting room. While insurance verification cannot be completed too far ahead of an appointment, most urgent care clinics that allow online and mobile registration should be well within an acceptable timeframe for checking insurance. Pre-verify a patients’ insurance before they show up at your clinic.
- Pre-visit electronic forms and signatureThe waiting room is often the space where new patients fill out disclosure and medical history forms. Making these forms available online and keeping signatures on file will help to reduce the time patients spend waiting, and the space required for a waiting room.If electronic forms are not available, collect only critical information during front desk check-in such as name, insurance, and reason for the visit. Nurses can collect additional medical history etc. during patient intake—reducing (or getting rid of) time in the waiting room.
- Setting non-urgent care appointments during periods with slower trafficWith urgent cares adopting specialties like OccMed and pediatrics every day, some appointments will be made by patients in advance. To optimize your patient flow, try to schedule these patients during traditionally slower hours to avoid a traffic jam in your waiting room. Don’t let these patients, or your on-demand patients, experience delays based on unusually heavy patient flow.
- Text message updates and alertsGood communication is key to giving people the choice about where to spend their time prior to being seen. Because most patients have a handy mobile device in their pocket, texting can be the primary means to share delays in wait time, status of lab results, and other patient information. This gives them back the time they set aside for waiting, allowing them to finish something on their to-do list, stop for a cup of coffee, or finish the episode of their latest Netflix binge. Texting is one of the primary ways people communicate today. It only makes sense to share information with your patients, especially when the information can save them time and reduce the minutes they waste in your waiting room.
- TelemedicineIt’s not surprising that we’re hearing more and more about distance medicine, or telehealth. The market for the internet of things (IoT) in healthcare keeps growing. Self-monitoring devices, smart sensors, and secure connections can safely connect patients with providers. The IoT may be able to provide more interaction and make online medical visits more common.For the time being, telemedicine seems restricted primarily to specific cases where it is warranted and rural communities where immediate care is inconvenient. In these cases, telemedicine offers non-critical patients a video appointment either right away or within a couple of hours. More options are becoming available every day, and the number of practitioners trained specifically to treat patients remotely is increasing.The telemedicine option will not likely clear out your waiting room today, but as the technology gets better and better, patients learn to trust the IoT with their medical care, and best practices begin to emerge, telemedicine is likely to become another legitimate option for getting rid of your waiting room.
Reducing the need for an actual physical waiting room is just one of the many ways improved technology is changing how patients experience healthcare. In the urgent care industry—a business built on convenience—it makes sense to do everything you can to give patients the convenience they demand before they even walk in to your clinic.
This resource was first published prior to the 2019 merger between DocuTAP and Practice Velocity. The content reflects our legacy brands.