In an effort to reduce patient contact and expedite services, the healthcare industry has leaned heavily on virtual waiting room technology. These virtual waiting rooms, or virtual queues, offer an online option for waiting for an appointment, replacing the traditional waiting room often seen in the healthcare profession.
The technology permits customers to add themselves to a virtual queue using their mobile phone, mimicking the check-in process while at a doctor’s appointment. Once checked in, patients are prompted to answer specific questions and complete required paperwork — all using their smartphone without the need to come into contact with other people. Often, users are provided an estimated wait time; then, when it is their turn to be seen, they are sent an SMS or text message informing them of their status. This allows patients to wait outside the office, for example, in their car or at a local café, instead of in the practitioner’s office.
Virtual waiting rooms have also proved helpful for telehealth services. However, instead of being notified to go into the office, patients are notified that the doctor will soon be in touch with them over the phone or via video call, allowing for socially distant remote access.
This process, which has proven beneficial to both patients and practitioners, is used in numerous healthcare settings, including offices of general practitioners, dentists, opticians, specialist services, alternative health practitioners, and hospital outpatient departments.
Healthcare professionals have turned to virtual queuing systems, such as Ombori’s Queue Management system, to accommodate this trend.
Why are Virtual Waiting Rooms Beneficial?
Virtual waiting rooms help combat the challenges often experienced within waiting rooms in the healthcare industry. With the help of technology, staff and patients enjoy safety, transparency, privacy, reduced wait times, and an overall smoother appointment from start to finish with the advent of virtual waiting rooms.
Virtual Waiting Rooms Improve Patient Safety
“Safe access to healthcare is critical and often cannot be postponed. But healthcare facilities are already some of the highest risk places for spreading disease. Hospitals and doctors’ offices are filled with sick people, often in very close proximity to one another. Many of them are already susceptible to infection, either because of age or an existing condition,” Ombori reports.
Virtual waiting rooms provide a safe alternative to traditional waiting areas by reducing contact both between multiple patients and between patients and medical staff. It allows patients, including those who may be contagious, to avoid contact with others, reducing the risk of spreading infection among patients.
These systems have also been used to reduce the number of visitors within a hospital setting. By requiring visitors to schedule visiting times via a pre-booking system, hospitals can manage occupancy, moderate wait times, and reduce the risk of infection spreading.
Virtual Waiting Rooms Provide Transparency
One of the most significant stressors about visiting the doctor is the wait time. Often, once patients check-in, they are provided no insight into how long their wait will be. Virtual waiting rooms can provide transparency to this problem. These systems allow patients to check-in, then provide an estimated wait time; some systems also provide details on how many patients are ahead in the queue. This upfront information sets expectations for the users, often reducing the anxiety and frustration associated with queuing.
Virtual Waiting Rooms Improve Staff’s Ability to Remain HIPAA Compliant
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPAA) is a federal law designed to protect the privacy of patient information, provide for the electronic and physical security of patient health information, require “minimum necessary” use and disclosure, and specify patients’ rights to approve the access and use of their medical information.
For healthcare professionals, HIPPAA compliance can be challenging to maintain simply because staff may be required to ask patients questions about their health or medical history. Virtual waiting rooms, though, offer a solution. Through their two-way, secure chatting rooms, healthcare professionals can collect required private information and ask questions without the risk of others hearing. As a result, practitioner offices can ensure patient privacy while expediting the process of collecting patient data.
Virtual Waiting Rooms Reduce Wait Times
An unexpected side effect of virtual queues is reduced wait times for patients. According to Ombori, virtual waiting rooms “reduce wait times and reduce occupancy in waiting rooms. Patients do not have to wait on the premises but can wait in their car or at another location close by, such as a dining area. The system keeps them informed of the expected wait time and notifies them when it’s time to come in. It can handle both in-person and telemedicine appointments, giving staff maximum flexibility.”
Experts from Academic Radiology noted the measurable efficiency gains at NYU Landone Health in New York City. “Across the system’s 17 busiest outpatient imaging centers, NYU has seen a 23% drop in pre-exam wait times (or about 6.8 minutes), with patients’ overall time spent on-site dropping by 15% (8 minutes).”
Gregory Chang, MD, MBA, associate chair of outpatient imaging and strategy, stated: “This higher patient throughput is beneficial because it helps ensure social distancing and safety for patients and staff and allows for higher patient capacity and possible increased revenue in the future using the same resources when the pandemic is over.”
Virtual Waiting Rooms Streamline Processes
Although the pandemic enhanced the reliance on virtual waiting rooms, industries across the board can anticipate the ongoing use of these systems, specifically given their ability to streamline the process for the staff and medical practice, management, and patients alike.
These virtual waiting rooms and appointment management systems allow all paperwork to be conducted via a digital platform. Previously, patients were required to arrive for their appointments early to complete the associated forms; virtual waiting rooms, however, allow these patients to complete all paperwork electronically before their visit from the comfort of their home.
Most systems utilize artificial intelligence chatbots to provide patients with assistance and organize all collected data. Technology has now replaced staff in completing this meticulous administrative work, which frees up staff to work on more prevalent, hands-on issues.
A more streamlined process is favorable to management; it increases the company’s return on investment. The data collected also enhances and simplifies the planning process for future busy times.
Virtual Waiting Rooms are Changing the Future of More than Just Healthcare
Pressed to accommodate safety concerns posed by the global pandemic, the health industry was one of the first to implement virtual waiting rooms. However, as we transition to a post-pandemic world, more industries plan to utilize the technology on a long-term basis.
Virtual waiting rooms can benefit any industry that involves queueing. Like the Radisson Blu Hotel in Andermatt, Switzerland, even businesses that you might not expect have seized the opportunity to streamline their business practices and improve customer experience by incorporating the technology into their processes.
The Radisson Blu was one hospitality client that used Ombori’s queue management system. When the pandemic hit, hotel general manager Andreas Meier recognized a need for a new solution to accommodate the busy winter season. Guests wanted to continue spa services but were unable to wait in typical spa communal areas. The Radisson used Ombori Grid to manage their spa services.
“Radisson Blu printed a flyer for guests at check-in, which included a QR code as well as guidance on how to use the queuing system and how to change a reservation from a smartphone.
Now, when guests have booked a time for the spa, they get a message on the smartphone alerting them it’s time to visit the spa. There’s no waiting and no more awkward queues in bathrobes.”
After months of use, Meir now reports, “Customers don’t expect to queue in hotels. Before Corona, it would be difficult to implement this system in our industry. Now that Corona has changed our lives, it has also changed our perceptions. I want to keep the system running for the spa after COVID.”
Virtual waiting rooms are no longer a luxury; instead, they are now transitioning to become necessities for businesses to adapt to the changed behaviors of consumers. We can now expect to see these systems used in various industries, including:
- Auto services; e.g., oil changes
- Retails stores; e.g., to manage fitting rooms
- Colleges; e.g., admissions appointments
- Airport and airlines
- Restaurants; e.g., to manage reservations
Businesses that find ways to make virtual waiting rooms work for their customers stand out in their fields as forward-thinking, customer-first organizations that consistently seek improvement. But companies that fail to adopt this technological improvement risk falling behind in an increasingly competitive, technology-focused world.
In essence, virtual waiting rooms can help streamline services, expedite wait times, and improve the overall customer experience in all industries that used to be plagued with tedious queues and crowded waiting rooms.