Today, more than 50% of the global population lives in urban areas, and the UN predicts that by 2050, this number will increase to 68%. The migration of populations to urban areas is driven by the availability of jobs and access to resources. However, as populations continue to grow, overpopulation becomes a problem – and the impact can be risky, especially for the healthcare industry.
Overcrowding can cause chaos, and in terms of medical care, it can lead to delayed treatment, sometimes resulting in death. Consequently, the healthcare sector and other public sectors have started turning to technological solutions to help manage crowds and improve customer service.
Managing Crowds Pre- vs. Post-COVID
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many practitioners used traditional crowd management methods. Without a sense of urgency, crowd control was not a major concern. Before COVID, hospitals and public health entities dealt with crowds using the following methods:
- Traffic cones
- Retractable belt barriers
- Temporary fencing
However, the pandemic has presented a new challenge to traditional forms of managing crowds. Because COVID-19 is so contagious, businesses have been forced to adopt new social distancing guidelines while maintaining crowds. No longer is it simply about keeping people calm; it is now more important to keep them safe by properly distancing them from one another. For example, practitioners have started requiring patients to wait outside the traditional waiting room to minimize contact among people within the office, which has led to new business operations.
Ombori Technology: A Solution for Managing Crowds
To accommodate these new trends, healthcare providers have turned to innovative technology solutions to help reduce crowds. Here are some of the most popular solutions that have been used to managing crowds and the benefits they offer to both patients and healthcare providers.
Queue Management Solutions
First up are queue management systems, which help practitioners avoid potential chaos by offering their patients virtual queues.
A virtual queue (VQ) allows hospitals and doctors’ offices to reduce the number of people within their buildings and the number of people waiting in line by using a virtual pre-booking and queuing system.
From the ease of their mobile phones, patients can add themselves to the virtual queue. Once registered, they are notified via text or SMS of their expected wait time. Then, when it is their turn, they receive another SMS or text message notifying them to return to the office.
Because of these innovations, practitioners and patients can expect a better overall experience. Queue management solutions, such as Ombori Grid Queue Management, offer the following benefits:
- Reduced queues: Clear patient information, combined with real-time staff management, reduces the number of people waiting in line, both inside and outside the building. This leads to increased safety, improved patient/visitor experiences, and reduced stress.
- Improved health and safety: Reducing the number of people waiting in line limits the risk of infection from viruses such as COVID-19. In places with extreme climates (heat, rain, cold, etc.), patients can wait in a more comfortable environment.
- Transparent patient/visitor communication: Giving patients and visitors clear and accurate information about expected wait times improves their overall experience and reduces their frustration.
- Analytics: As practitioners start to capture historical queuing data, they can identify underlying trends and patterns in patient behavior. For example, hospitals can understand peak emergency room hours to ensure they are staffed appropriately to reduce crowds and limit risk.
Appointment Booking Solutions
Working in conjunction with queue management systems, appointment booking solutions allow patients to schedule bookings online. Practitioners currently use these solutions to manage patient visits; however, some hospitals are also starting to implement this technology.
Ombori Grid offers flexible appointment booking options for patients online. Now, instead of waiting on the phone to visit with a scheduling assistant, people can create a new appointment or manage a current one through their mobile device.
With an easy way to schedule and manage appointments, more individuals are likely to use booking solutions, resulting in fewer walk-ins. Healthcare facilities can better prepare for crowds and reduce the number of unexpected visitors. Additionally, appointment booking solutions like Ombori Grid can help practitioners achieve the following outcomes:
- Reduced patient frustration: Online booking makes it easy for patients to contact customer service and schedule an appointment or speak to someone who can address their needs.
- Smooth transition from peak to trough demand: Practitioners can adjust their customer service levels to meet demand. They can ensure enough area is available to accommodate larger crowds and more requests. This can reduce frustration among patients because someone is there to address their concerns, and they do not have to wait for an extended period of time.
- Fewer missed appointments: Patients are reminded when their appointment is approaching via direct messaging to their phone. If they are running late or need to reschedule, they can inform the practitioner immediately. Additionally, patients can book or adjust an appointment at any time without waiting for the facility to be open or needing to speak to an associate.
Occupancy Control and People Counting Solutions
Outside of scheduling, practitioners also rely on occupancy control and people counting solutions to help control real-time crowds.
Ombori Grid offers both, helping to create a safe environment for everyone.
The people counter solution tracks footfall in real-time to help practitioners meet occupancy regulations. It also helps them make data-driven decisions, optimize staff planning, and ultimately increase revenue. This technology uses cameras to count people entering and leaving the building without any human intervention, and patients can enter or leave through any doorway.
Meanwhile, the occupancy control solution manages maximum occupancy at a given location. It builds upon the Ombori Grid People Counter but extends it with queue ticketing and pre-booked appointments. This way, occupancy is not only tracked but proactively managed to improve the overall patient experience and increase revenue.
Within the healthcare and public sector, occupancy control has been one of the most beneficial tools used in managing crowds. Here is why:
- COVID-19 restrictions: It ensures healthcare and public health settings comply with COVID-19 mandates. For example, to ensure the safety of patients through 6-foot social distancing, occupancy limits have been reduced in most establishments. By using people counters, these offices can ensure they do not exceed the maximum occupancy.
- Insurance and legal compliance: Offices can remain aligned with additional occupancy restrictions due to insurance, fire codes, or other reasons.
- Improved patient experience: By reducing the number of individuals in a given space, healthcare providers can improve the overall patient experience. Individuals will enjoy shorter waiting periods and less anxiety due to overcrowding.
- Occupancy Analytics: Accurate real-time and historical data on occupancy allows practitioners to prepare for any state of emergency. Patterns can help them adjust their needs to ensure ongoing patient safety.
How Crowd Management Solutions Can Streamline Operations
The combined use of various technologies allows businesses within the healthcare and public sector to streamline operations while improving the overall patient experience. Using crowd management solutions provided by companies such as Ombori can help practitioners better prepare for large numbers of patients and create backup policies for peak traffic hours.
In addition, such technologies can help patients avoid overcrowding and long waiting lines. They can utilize these solutions to better prepare themselves for their appointment and enjoy improved customer service. The ability to schedule and change appointments online, as well as monitor the waiting situation prior to entering a building, is not only appealing to patients but also more cost-effective for practitioners.
Why Crowd Management Is Important in a Post-COVID World
However, one of the biggest benefits of using crowd management technology is ensuring proper social distancing, thereby protecting the safety of patients, visitors, and staff. As technology changes the way businesses operate, patient and visitor expectations have changed as well. Patients have become accustomed to specific services – such as transparency on wait times, telehealth appointments, and online scheduling.
In times like these, crowd management solutions allow practitioners to keep their offices running while ensuring the safety and comfort of patients. They aim to streamline and optimize the patient journey and improve social distancing.
Looking Into the Future
Scientific research shows that crowds are a source of transmission in the COVID-19 spread. Therefore, businesses cannot overlook the importance of crowd management, and thanks to today’s technology, a variety of tools are at their disposal.
As the healthcare and public sectors return to something like “normal,” practitioners do so with the understanding that everything has changed. Thinking about how the experiences they provide fit into the wider world of patients is something they should have been doing already, and if not, they have now started. If reassessing crowd management techniques encourage practitioners to consider the whole patient journey and lead to a more holistic appreciation of the patient experience, then the effort has been well worth it.
Björn is Chief Experience Officer of Ombori Grid. He spent the early part of his career in the music business before moving into retail design and video production. His passion is for creating unique and memorable retail experiences that excite and delight customers. He spent 6 years at Visual Art in Stockholm before joining Ombori in 2018.