How Virtual Waiting Rooms Protect Patients, Staff, and Productivity

How Virtual Waiting Rooms Protect Patients, Staff, and Productivity

A traditional waiting room can be a melting pot for germs and bacteria. Learn how a virtual waiting room protects patients and staff by reducing their risk of exposure to infection. Possible side effects: more pleasant patient-provider encounters, increased patient and provider satisfaction, better adherence to social distancing best practices, and improved overall outcomes.

May 2020, 90% of patients globally reported that the quality of care was as good or better with the recent surge in virtual care than care quality before COVID-19.1

What is a “virtual waiting room”?

If you’ve been out to eat at a restaurant in the past few years, you may have noticed a change in the experience of waiting for a table. Rather than asking you to stay within earshot while you wait, today’s hostess will likely request your cell phone number and offer to text you when your table is ready.

The text-to-table process makes the entire experience feel more personal, comfortable, and customer-centric. That’s because waiting is less unpleasant when you are free to do what you want—where you want—until the moment your turn arrives. Now, the same experience has become essential in healthcare to minimize patient discomfort and protect public safety with social distancing.

A virtual waiting room (aka mobile waiting room, zero-contact waiting room, or curbside check-in) is a service that allows patients to check in using their mobile phone and notifies them through a direct text message when it is their turn to be seen by the doctor.

An ideal virtual waiting room serves two essential purposes:

  1. Giving in-person patients the freedom to wait for their turn privately in their car or wherever they choose, rather than being confined to a stuffy, crowded waiting room and risking exposure to new germs and potential illness.
  2. Facilitating a smooth check-in process for telehealth visits.

Both purposes improve the patient experience and encourage healthy practices.

Why are virtual waiting rooms essential for in-person patient visits?

31% of patients say they are uncomfortable visiting a doctor’s office and 42% are uncomfortable visiting a hospital.2

Traditional waiting rooms that require patients to touch shared surfaces and breathe shared air are both uncomfortable and unsafe in the current environment. Virtual waiting rooms serve the important health purpose of enabling social distancing, and they also enhance the patient experience.

Unlike a traditional waiting room, a virtual waiting room reduces the risk of patients (and staff) associating your organization with frustrating factors beyond your control, which may include pesky sounds, smells, other people, and even boredom. As demand rises for a safer, more comfortable healthcare experience, virtual waiting rooms are the key to getting patients in the door while increasing their odds of leaving satisfied.

How can virtual waiting rooms apply to video visits?

Ideally, the same virtual solution used to help manage in-person patient visits can be adapted to also queue up video visits, allowing providers and patients to indicate when they are ready.

What’s the best way to implement a virtual waiting room?

In short, work with what you’ve got. If you have a patient engagement solution that can also facilitate a virtual waiting room and video visits, talk to your vendor about the next steps for launching a virtual waiting room.

If you do not have a solution for two-way texting or video visits with patients, or if you are looking for a replacement/upgrade to your current system, focus on finding a solution that can do the following:

  • Automated Appointment Reminders to Patients
  • Pre-Appointment and Pre-Arrival Instructions to Patients
  • Patient Arrival Notification via Simple Text
  • Entry Notification and Office Navigation Guidance
  • HIPAA-Compliant Video Connection
  • Scheduled and On-the-Fly Video Visits
  • Connect Without Requiring App Downloads or Passwords
  • Caller ID Protection for Providers
  • 24/7 Connection

Here’s a streamlined patient experience with an organization using all of the above capabilities:

Key Benefits of an Integrated Virtual Waiting Room

Virtual waiting rooms are extremely beneficial to patients, staff, and organizations that implement them, especially when they are integrated with other patient engagement solutions, such as video visits and HIPAA-compliant messaging.

Some of the top benefits include:

  • Patient Protection and Safety
  • Increased Patient Satisfaction
  • Reduced Frustration for Patients and Staff
  • Efficient Patient Intake
  • Reduced No-Shows

 

Get Started Now to See Benefits Sooner

Give your patients a safer, easier solution for maintaining their healthcare with a user-friendly, integrated virtual waiting room. To see how it works, click below.

Resources:

  1. Virtual care here to stay, PharmaTimes, Brad Michel, Jul. 21, 2020: pharmatimes.com/web_exclusives/Virtual_care_here_to_stay_1345204
  2. Breakdown of Changes in Consumers’ Health Care Behavior During COVID-19—INFOGRAPHIC, Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP), May 21, 2020: achp.org/research-breakdown-of-changes-in-consumers-health-care-behavior-during-covid-19

Engaging Millennial Parents to Increase Well-Child Visits

Scheduling well-child visits can be problematic for young parents. Many don’t know how often to bring in their children or understand the importance of regularly scheduled visits. Regular visits are particularly critical during the first three years of a child’s life to track growth and development, help prevent illness, and allow early intervention when necessary for optimal outcomes.

Text message reminders have become an expected touchpoint for dental appointments, vet visits, car maintenance, and various other services for today’s consumer. But some providers have been slow to engage parents via text to help keep their children on track with recommended care plans.

Millennials, who are accustomed to checking their text messages regularly throughout the day, respond positively to businesses that reach out to them via text. Young parents want the efficiency and convenience of smartphone messaging in most aspects of their lives, including appointment reminders.

See how Park Nicollet utilized PerfectServe’s Patient & Family Communication functionality to launch a text message appointment reminder program helping new parents more closely adhere to the recommended well-child visit schedule.

Constructing the Program

In 2016, Park Nicollet, part of HealthPartners, a nonprofit healthcare system based in Minnesota, launched a text-message-based reminder program to proactively support young parents in scheduling well-child visits from infancy to late childhood. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends six visits in the first 15 months (Health Plan Employers Data and Information Set [HEDIS] measure), which fits into the broad scope of 12 recommended well-child visits by age three.

To promote parents’ adherence to the advised schedule, our team set five goals aligned with best practices from AAP’s Bright Futures initiative:

  1. Keep children on time for well-child visits.
  2. Prevent missed visits and gaps in care.
  3. Improve the patient and parent experience.
  4. Support Bright Futures—recall and reminder system.
  5. Improve the HEDIS measure.

A program was launched using an algorithm based on birth dates to send text messages at appropriate intervals to parents of children aged two months to 36 months. Instead of waiting to reach out until after appointments were overdue, preemptive texts encouraged parents to schedule before the next well visit, offering a direct link for parents to easily schedule an appointment. The seamless and automatic process allowed Park Nicollet to reclaim precious staff time that was previously used to manage reminders.

Program Structure

Birth to Three Years

A SMS text message is sent to the child’s family or primary caregiver 30 days prior to the next well-child visit,
based on the child’s date of birth. Then, text reminders are only sent if an appointment is not scheduled in the appropriate timeframe.

Three to 10 Years

A text message is sent to the child’s family or primary caregiver two weeks prior to the next well-child visit, based on the date of the child’s last well-child visit. Then, a text reminder is only sent if an appointment is not scheduled in the appropriate timeframe.

Launching the Program

Launching the program with a small patient population (birth to three years) enabled Park Nicollet to see results quickly; early results showed that the text outreach was positive. Patient satisfaction increased among parents, who loved the ease and convenience of the program. Prior to the texting program, patients were seen an average of one month after their recommended well visit. Only three to six months after initiating the text reminder program, the one-month average gap was cut in half, meaning patients were seen closer to AAP recommendations.

Implementing the program on a smaller scale provided an opportunity to identify and address problems before expanding to the larger population. The biggest challenge involved parental consent and whether to design an opt-in or opt-out program. Park Nicollet defaulted to an opt-in program, requiring parents to provide consent to start receiving text reminders. Eventually, this obstacle overcome by training frontline staff to have parents sign consent forms, but the face-to-face process limited enrollment to the parents who were already making and keeping appointments.

Efficient enrollment and expansion required automation and updating of the electronic health record (EHR). Following the EHR integration, enrollment consent was captured in the EHR and parents didn’t need to be present in the office if they had consented to text messaging as their preferred appointment reminder.

With enterprise-wide expansion of PerfectServe’s Patient & Family Communication to all HealthPartners facilities in 2017, the automated process increased enrollment by over 35,000 and increased well-child visits by 10%. Based on the last reported 12-month period, enterprise-wide enrollment has over 79,000 active patients, which includes HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, and over 43,000 enrolled patients for Park Nicollet alone (see Table 1).

Table 1

Development and Expansion

With expansion of the program to Park Nicollet’s entire clinic care group in 2019, they began using text reminders for well visits for children up to age 10. Future initiatives with the program for Park Nicollet included incorporating additional languages (a sizable subset of HealthPartners patients is non-native-English speaking). In addition, increased enrollment of the millennial population presented opportunities to address various patient population needs—such as:

  • Reminders for flu vaccines and other immunizations.
  • Health metrics monitoring.
  • Checks for postpartum depression.

A Roadmap for Getting Started

Leveraging technology with a trusted and experienced partner enabled the team at Park Nicollet to create a program that worked for patients’ families. Following a digital roadmap, PerfectServe and Park Nicollet worked together to build reports derived from actionable, engaging, timely, and relevant data. Based on these insights, here are five recommendations for implementing a successful texting program:

  1. Partner with a solution that has proven expertise with EMR systems and experience providing reliable, secure communication to patients and their family.
  2. Engage a project champion to guide project design, implementation, effectiveness, expansion, and quality assurance.
  3. Assemble a multidisciplinary team—mobile communication technology partner, EMR vendor, physicians, quality improvement specialists, health information management (HIM), compliance and legal experts, growth strategists, and frontline managers—and solicit input from all stakeholders.
  4. Launch a scaled down program with a small population to identify and address problems before expanding to a larger patient population.
  5. Initiate the process with a mindset of patience. Avoid trying to implement the program hastily and without forethought. This endeavor demands careful preparation to ensure success.

PerfectServe’s Patient & Family Communication solution gives providers a simple and elegant way to engage directly with patients. From sharing directions to your office before an appointment to checking in with patients post-discharge, text messaging is a quick, effective, and easily automated way to stay connected with any patient population—most of all millennials.

Learn more about how PerfectServe supports patient-provider communication by contacting one of our Clinical Communication Specialists below.

Patient Benefits of an Advanced Automated Answering Service Solution

Patient experience is the most important factor when it comes to patient retention at any medical practice. An essential touchpoint to optimize in modern medical practices is to standardize the way your patient calls are handled. The right 24/7 answering service solution can free up valuable provider and staff resources to focus on patient care while reducing unnecessary interruptions and ensuring urgent messages reach the right provider at the right time—every time.

Removing human error and delivering an automated and reliable service for both providers and patients, advanced answering service solutions are being implemented by more and more practices to enhance both patient and provider satisfaction.

Here are just a few key patient benefits of an ideal automated answering service solution:

Less Frustration

Your patients have busy lives but your practice is busy, too. If your practice experiences call volume congestion, your patients still need to be able to reach you without being put on hold. The right answering service solution will differentiate messages based on urgency and use your on-call schedules to accurately route communication to the right provider based on escalation policies set by your practice, speeding time to treatment.

Timely Communication

Efficient practice operations help decrease the time patients spend waiting during appointments and on hold when they call your practice. Automation allows patients to reach your practice at any time, during any circumstances to get the answers and help they need. The best answering service solutions offer smart routing that ensures providers are only interrupted to address urgent requests that require responses in a timely manner.

24/7 Care Access

Although many answering services are only used for after-hours coverage, an automated answering service solution delivers around-the-clock coverage as needed. Just because you don’t see your patients on a 24-hour basis does not mean it shouldn’t be easy for them to manage their appointments and make routine requests such as medication refills whenever they think of them, which might not be during regular office hours. An automated answering service solution can support call volume overflow when the main line at your practice is busy and serve as a 24/7 backup during emergency events when your practice is closed.

Better Onsite Service

Your staff need to be able to do their jobs, but when they face constant interruptions and take on the additional task of call filtering, concentration is broken, efficiency is lost, and providers can become unable to best care for their patients. Implementing the right automated answering service solution can free up your team to focus more on what they do best—patient care.

If providing an excellent patient experience and running an efficient medical practice are priorities for you, an advanced automated answering service solution might be just what the doctor ordered.

Let’s discuss more about how the ideal automated answering service solution can benefit your patients.