Originally published in Healthcare Business and Technology
The interest in the public health branch of government has dramatically increased in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. With public health officials helping governments curb the spread of the virus, doctors, hospitals, researchers, and medical professionals have become some of the most trusted people in the U.S. But with many non-essential medical services–including fertility treatments and elective surgeries–cancelled during the early months of the pandemic, will public trust waiver as services reopen?
As the number of cases begin to improve, there has been a slight increase in demand for medical services as people reschedule missed appointments. This demand is important for the industry, especially since American hospitals incurred over $50 billion a month in losses between March and June. But with increased demand brings busy waiting areas and long wait times, which can increase the risk of COVID transmission. Doctors and clinics will need to return to care carefully, with increased reliance on technology to improve the patient experience.
Improving in-person experiences
Although waiting in clinics and hospitals is inevitable, it can be an unpleasant experience, especially during a pandemic. Busy and crowded waiting rooms can increase the risk of exposure to the virus to both patients and employees, which is especially dangerous to vulnerable people. Reducing waiting periods, or at least managing the number of patients in the waiting room at a time, is especially important for those who decide to resume in-person care. By leveraging queue management systems and patient appointment scheduling tools, patient and employee safety can be improved.
Patient appointment scheduling tools can be extremely beneficial to clinics, as they help to integrate scheduled appointments with the influx of walk-in patients. Using the scheduling tool to make appointments, patients can receive reminders leading up to their appointment. On the day of the appointment, they’ll receive messages informing them of any delays or cancellations, allowing them to plan their visit accordingly. If there are delays, they can arrive at the clinic later, which reduces the number of people in the waiting room and minimizes patient wait times. Walk-in appointments can be integrated into the schedule when appointments finish earlier than expected or when an appointment is cancelled. This ensures that all patients are being seen in a timely manner.
Queue management systems also help to support physical distancing measures. Patients can join virtual waiting rooms from their app while at home or in their car, reducing the number of people inside the clinic at a time. They can also help to reduce touchpoints, as the line can be joined from personal devices. Individuals can then wait at a safe distance, receive updates on their place in line and the wait times, and enter the building only when it is their turn. This can help clinics and hospitals manage the number of people inside at a time.
Implementing digital alternatives
Throughout the pandemic, telehealth visits have been allowing individuals to connect with healthcare professionals from the safety of their home. Although most patients will opt to return to in-person healthcare visits, more vulnerable individuals or individuals in remote areas may still want to receive their care virtually. In order to optimize their experience and improve patient satisfaction, there are a number of solutions to telehealth visits.
One of the most important aspects of offering care in a pandemic is ensuring that healthcare practitioners are making connections with their patients. This can help them feel involved in their care and can improve trust. When giving care virtually, it’s important to have the same level of service as in-person appointments. This means using high-quality video conferencing tools to see patients and enable a face-to-face appointment from anywhere. If healthcare practitioners rely solely on phone calls, many aspects of care will be missing. At a time when people are increasingly scared for their health, being able to talk to and see their healthcare practitioners from the safety of their home can improve patient service.
It’s important to respect the patient’s time, even if they aren’t physically in the waiting room. Using video conferencing queue management tools can help healthcare practitioners increase communication and decrease wait times for patients. Whether the appointments are booked in advance or are “walk-in” appointments, these tools allow patients to check-in virtually for their video appointments, receive information on wait times and their place in line, and get a call-back when the doctor is ready to see them. Patients aren’t left wondering when, or if, they will get to see their doctor.
Creating personalized experiences
Especially during this uncertain time, creating personalized experiences for patients can greatly improve the relationship between patient and provider. Since healthcare practitioners already have access to a great deal of patient data, it’s important to leverage this data for personalized experiences. Something as simple as being aware of the patient’s medical history before the appointment, or addressing them by their preferred name, can greatly improve the patient’s experience. The downside to having access to valuable data is that it can be hacked and leaked to third parties. Hospitals and clinics need to ensure that their cybersecurity measures are up to the highest standards to reduce the risk of hacks.
Another important way to provide personalized experiences is to offer communication on the patient’s terms. Text messages are becoming ubiquitous, especially since emails and social media require data to use when on-the-go. With 75 percent of consumers saying that they don’t mind getting SMS messages from brands after they opt-in, healthcare practitioners can use this to their advantage. Personalized and relevant text messages reminding patients of their appointments or updating them on wait times can improve communication and reduce the number of missed appointments. These messages can also be automated through various tools, reducing the workload for clinics.
Improved patient satisfaction
The keys to maintaining public trust in healthcare and to increasing clinic and hospital revenue are improved patient care and an emphasis on patient health and safety. Technology solutions can help healthcare practitioners with this. While returning to normal in healthcare is extremely important for patients, it also needs to be done with extra caution. By investing in technology solutions that work in the long-term, clinics and patients can immediately reap the benefits.
Kevin Grauman is the President and CEO of Qless, a line management system used by retail, education and government industries.