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How to Futureproof Healthcare Waiting Rooms: COVID-19 and Beyond

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Introduction

Every day, hundreds of patients flood through hospital and practice waiting rooms on their way to see a medical professional. Whether their appointment is pre-booked or for emergency care, being seated in a room with other people to await your turn is a necessary part of the patient experience. 

However, the modern waiting room is changing. And it’s happening faster than expected. The recent global health crisis caused by COVID-19 has challenged providers to implement new measures that could change how we think about practice waiting rooms. From increased hygiene standards to new social distancing rules, practice managers need to reassess how they manage patient flow in the healthcare environment, to allow both medical staff and patients alike to stay safe and mitigate the ongoing risks associated with COVID-19. 

This isn’t the only factor that is altering waiting rooms. Modern, digital technology is transforming the way we manage healthcare, and patients now expect a more convenient, streamlined, and reliable service as a result. 

In this guide, we’ll explore how digital technology, the recent global health crisis, and patient expectations are altering healthcare waiting rooms. And, how you can use digital technology to prepare yours for the future – post-pandemic and beyond. 

What’s in a Waiting Room?

The average waiting room goes far beyond the chairs to sit on, or the informative healthcare posters on the walls. A waiting room can have a powerful impact on the overall patient experience, including patient anxiety, available distractions, and the effectiveness of the healthcare information you display. 

So, what are the differences between an effective and ineffective waiting room? One study conducted by healthcare experts can tell us more.  

A Negative Waiting Room Environment 

From the start of the patient’s journey, it may be more difficult to check-in or contact the receptionist. Any TVs are turned off or feature no sound with rolling news or static; healthcare displays such as posters or leaflets are out of date. And, cluttered displays or poor use of space negatively affects the environment.  

A Positive Waiting Room Environment 

The inclusion of open space, and in some cases windows, improves the appearance of a waiting room. All patient pathways are signposted, so visitors know how to check-in, or feel empowered to ask questions to staff. Positive waiting rooms also include visual touches such as plants or connections to the local community. Lastly, there is less leaflet clutter, coordinated colour schemes, and digital facilities – such as digital signage – available for patients as they wait.  

This study reveals that the organisation and appearance of waiting rooms influence the overall waiting experience for individuals.  

A waiting room shouldn't be a room of doom and gloom. The environment should be welcoming, spacious, and organised to satisfy patient expectations – an ever-growing priority across the healthcare sector.  

patients waiting in a hospital waiting room

What’s Affecting Healthcare Waiting Rooms Today?

The Global Health Crisis of COVID-19 

The healthcare sector has rapidly adapted to the effects of COVID-19 – the biggest global health crisis in years.  

With essential social distancing measures in place, concerns have grown that the concept of a multi-patient waiting room is no longer feasible. Notable healthcare authorities, including The World Health Organisation (WHO), strongly advocate for increased safety regulation during the outbreak, releasing an occupational health and safety document that provides interim guidance for healthcare services. It highlights the difficulty of managing healthcare services on-premises, and the responsibility of those in charge.

Healthcare institutions face ongoing pressure to manage the spread of the virus, and the occurrence of a global pandemic has accelerated the need for new solutions to help navigate, aid, and streamline patients through the healthcare system. Yet, a healthcare waiting room can be a significant challenge to this.  

Traditionally, waiting rooms are one of the most effective methods of managing patient flow. For example, many hospitals implement colour-coded or numerically sorted waiting rooms for specific departments and assign specific healthcare personnel to each room. Smaller-scale practices might use their waiting room to stagger patients between appointments, especially when an appointment overruns or a patient is late. And most notably across all sectors of healthcare, a waiting room is an effective tool for monitoring patient health and effectively triaging patients – especially in emergency departments. 

Patient Expectations

In the last decade, patient satisfaction has become one of the most important priorities for healthcare providers. Put simply, this is the measure of how happy each patient is with their healthcare experience – an aspect that can significantly impact clinical outcomes and patient retention rates.  

In a world where everyone is now more connected than ever, patients have greater choice over the healthcare experiences they choose. Research suggests that some consumers are turning to private healthcare, as it’s more accessible, personalised, and convenient. This has created a competitive landscape within healthcare where providers not only compete to offer the best possible experience but also to satisfy growing patient expectations.  

Today’s patients no longer expect the experiences of the past. Be it a receptionist calling a list of names or receiving a letter to their door about their next appointment. Medical treatments are considered cutting-edge and thus the healthcare experience should be too. 

To meet these demands, patient expectations must be satisfied in every aspect of the healthcare experience, even the waiting room. A pleasant and streamlined environment, that’s supported by digital tools can help practices achieve this.  

Digital Technology

Digital technology has transformed our lives. Across almost all industries, technology has impacted the ways people interact and work. Patients have become accustomed to using digital technology in their domestic lives, such as using smart watches to monitor health, receiving messages direct to their phone, or simply booking a hairdresser appointment online in a couple of clicks. Healthcare providers are now challenged by these rapidly changing patient expectations.  

And if the healthcare sector does not fulfil these expectations, their biggest customer – the patient – is ultimately dissatisfied with the provided healthcare services.  

An example of technology that improves the health experience is patient engagement technology. It allows patients to manage appointments online, lets practices send healthcare information and reminders via SMS text messaging, and acts as an online platform for patients to book appointments on their terms – to name a few benefits.

With these three factors in mind, waiting rooms are set to be transformed in the immediate future, and in the coming years. The recent global health crisis has accelerated the necessity for new solutions to tackle safety concerns and reduce the risk of the virus spreading – a task that can’t be achieved if the common waiting room remains the same. 

What will future waiting rooms be like, and how can you prepare yours? 

50%

of consumers would switch healthcare providers for better customer service.

Accenture

The Future of Healthcare Waiting Rooms

Future healthcare waiting rooms will require strict compliance with new, and possibly permanent, safety measures. For example, many hospitals and practices alike will be challenged more than ever to manage social distancing, patient flow, hygiene regulations, and more. 

Here are some simple ways to improve processes within your practice and futureproof your waiting room. 

Patient Flow 

Effectively managing patient flow around your practice is vital for mitigating the risk of spreading a virus and protecting vulnerable patients.  

To achieve this, dedicate certain rooms or offices solely to attending patients with COVID-19, including those who have had contact with an individual with the virus. Meanwhile, create separate spaces for vulnerable patients, such as those that are elderly or immunocompromised.  

If multiple locations are not available, your practice can stagger patient appointments throughout the month, week, or even by the time of day to effectively mitigate risk and manage patient flow.  

Patient Arrivals and Social Distancing  

It’s essential to ensure that patient check-in runs smoothly during a pandemic, especially when patient anxiety for healthcare-related visits is increased. And, if you work in a large-scale healthcare environment, managing hundreds of patients a day as they walk through the door can be a risk.  

Patient check-in software helps to simplify patient arrivals, all through one cloud-based tool. Patients can simply check-in via a touchscreen, so your practice staff intuitively know when they’ve arrived using an online system.  

Sophisticated check-in software can also act as a wayfinding tool. After check-in, you can use the in-built, customisable arrival messaging to direct patients towards the correct waiting room location – without the need for immediate face-to-face interaction at the door. This can help your practice protect personnel from unnecessary interactions with patients during the check-in process, keeping both patients and staff safe.  

Alternatively, some smaller practices with a lower footfall per day choose to collect patients from outside, such as from the car park. This can be achieved by asking for the registration number of patient vehicles and monitoring when the patient arrives. However, this might not be easily replicable on a larger scale.  

Seating Arrangements 

With experts suggesting that social distancing measures could be in place for the next few years, the safety measures implemented during COVID-19 are set to have a lasting effect on our society. Patients and staff alike won’t feel safe until they are implemented in your practice, most especially as the virus may return seasonally without a vaccine.  

Therefore, it’s important to change your waiting room to accommodate social distancing measures immediately, to comply with regulations in your country, and those set by WHO. 

Your waiting room chairs should always be arranged at least two metres (or 6ft) apart to comply with health and safety social distancing measures. Consider patient walkways and ensure patients sit in the correct area depending on the time of their appointment so walkways aren’t obstructed unnecessarily. 

Hygiene Standards 

While hygiene standards within any healthcare establishment are paramount, today, it's more important than ever. By implementing a standardised and thorough deep cleaning routine throughout your practice, you’ll keep every individual who enters your doors safe. 

It’s recommended to follow the hygiene and infection control standards set by your country of work, in addition to the suggested regulations by WHO. This includes: 

The following is from the UK GOV Covid-19: Infection Prevention and Control Guide. 

Transmission Based Precautions 

Are you cleaning every potential transmission point across your practice? (Doors, tables, railings, elevator buttons, digital touchscreens, patient facilities, waiting room chairs, hand sanitiser dispensers, and more)  

Duration of Precautions 

How long are you cleaning for, and often? Is it at regular intervals each day?

Standard Precautions 

What measures do you have in place to standardise cleaning?

Moving and Transferring Visitors 

Are patient transmission points regularly cleaned, and is hand washing available?

Environmental Decontamination 

Do you deep clean the appointment office after the patient has left the room, and between patients?

Waste Management  

Do you have procedures in place to effectively manage infectious waste? 

Staff Uniform 

Are your personnel effectively equipped with PPE which will keep them and patients safe? Including face masks, gloves, theatre scrubs. Do staff know how to effectively clean scrubs at home? I.e. separated from personal clothing. 

Equipment Management 

Do you regularly clean the equipment within your healthcare environment, such as digital tools, healthcare tools used by medical professionals, and administrative tools used by practice personnel? 

NOTE: In the UK, it’s recommended to use a combined detergent/disinfectant solution at a dilution of 1,000 parts per million available chlorine (ppm available chlorine (av.cl.)) OR a general-purpose neutral detergent in a solution of warm water followed by a disinfectant solution of 1,000ppm av.cl.

Equipment Regulation 

Do you provide single-use equipment where possible, and is it allocated to individual patients/cohorts of patients to reduce risk? 

NOTE: In the UK, it’s recommended that reusable (communal) non-invasive equipment must be decontaminated: between each patient and after patient use, after blood and body fluid contamination, and at regular intervals as part of equipment cleaning. 

Most importantly, reducing face-to-face contact is essential. Many practices have implemented telemedicine technology, such as online consultations via webcam interactions with patients, to eliminate hygiene risks.  

Signage and Healthcare Information 

Many are familiar with traditional waiting rooms – filled with leaflets, books, and healthcare information to interest patients as they wait for appointments. One study found that 82% of patients attending a clinic took notice of the posters, and 95% of those patients reported reading the poster – helping inform their healthcare experience. However, this method of reaching patients is no longer the safest way to provide information, as leaflets and posters both are contamination risks.  

Digital signage for waiting rooms can reengage patients who don’t want to risk picking up leaflets. Fully customisable content playlists let you show information that’s relevant to your practice and patients, such as COVID-19 communications, boosting the efficiency and clarity of your messaging. Additionally, your displays can be updated in real-time using cloud-based software – letting you display live news or weather RSS feeds to improve patient experience and continuously alternate content. The effectiveness of this can be monitored with content trend reporting data.  

Patient Engagement 

Finally, your practice needs to keep patients engaged outside the waiting room too. Healthcare professionals should conduct digital patient surveys with targeted SMS and email messaging to reveal what patients really think about your practice. When it comes to achieving greater patient satisfaction, this feedback will be vital to identify areas of improvement. And, patients will feel both seen and heard – improving efficacy and trust between your practice and your patients.  

84%

of global companies believe digital transformation is critical to survival in the next 5 years.

SAP

Prepare Your Waiting Room for the Future

The adoption of digital technology to manage patient care has changed how patients interact with healthcare services.

From patient check-in software and touchscreens on arrival, telemedicine technology that creates new patient pathways such as digital appointments, to patient feedback technology – digital tools are only set to further complement the patient experience, so future-thinking practices can’t afford to miss out.  

While you prepare your waiting room for the future post-pandemic, it’s vital to implement the tools that will keep your practice running, no matter what.

Patient engagement technology empowers you to connect each step of the patient journey, both inside and outside your practice. Helping you streamline services, remain patient-centric, and keep vital healthcare processes running.  

Discover Jayex for Complete Patient Engagement

Jayex offers truly modern solutions for your healthcare service. From online booking software to digital displays and patient calling, we're happy to assist you with all of your patient-facing needs. 

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