Why The Patient’s Living Room Will Become The New Waiting Room Experience

By Sarah Mardjuki, Business Strategy & Operations Analyst, LifeLink
Twitter: @lifelinkhealth

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to rethink how they interact with their customers. Major retailers have redesigned store fronts to optimize for curbside pickup. Restaurants have created fast lanes for delivery drivers. No lines, no hassle, and most importantly, no human contact. And guess what, consumers actually prefer this way of spending their money because it’s convenient and easy.

The ‘new normal’ experiences that the retail and service industries have introduced presents an opportunity for healthcare providers to address and improve the way they engage and interact with their customers – the patients. Healthcare is even more essential than getting food at grocery stores, and yet, patients are doing everything they can to avoid going. Retail, restaurants, and banking have all gone contactless. Hospitals also need to develop ways to make patients feel safe and minimize the amount of time they spend in person at clinics and hospitals.

For example, companies across business sectors are engaging their customers in their homes, and on their smartphones. Gyms are turning their classes virtual through apps, with 80% growth in fitness app downloads in the recent months. UberEats has seen a 30% surge in customer signups, with the number of deliveries soaring. Pharmacies like CVS are offering free home delivery for prescriptions.

It’s clear hospitals have a significant opportunity to follow the ‘new normal’ experiences that the retail and service industries have introduced. With hospitals at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, patients are understandably fearful of in-person visits necessary to get the care they need. In fact, 38% of patients are opting to delay or avoid care altogether for heart symptoms, as evidenced by the drop in treatment occurrences compared to pre-pandemic baselines. Patients that desperately need care are choosing to delay visiting hospitals to avoid getting infected.

But with healthcare staff already overworked, operational efficiency is at a premium. Hospital systems are trying to educate patients, conduct intake, and check them in over the phone, but Patient Access and Medical Assistant teams don’t have time to leave voicemails and play phone tag with patients who don’t pick up their phones. How can hospital systems deliver safe, patient-friendly encounter experiences without burdening care teams?

To solve this problem, hospitals must embrace virtual interactions. Business meetings, cooking classes, and high school graduations have all gone virtual. It’s time for the waiting room to go virtual.

A traditional waiting room crams patient education, intake, and check in all into the 20 minutes before a patient’s visit. Whether the doctor is running early, on time, or late, patients must arrive early to ensure they are prepared for their appointment. If hospitals can expand the waiting room to the comfort of the patient’s home, starting from the moment they scheduled the visit, all the way to walking into the exam room, patients would be able to prepare for their appointments and fill out their forms whenever is most convenient for them, only showing up at the clinic when the doctor is ready to see them. Who wouldn’t want to get ready for their appointment at home, on the couch, instead of scribbling through paper forms in a stressful, crowded waiting room?

Relieving patient populations of tens of thousands of hours every year in in-person waits is a powerful value opportunity for providers. It’s not just better for patients, it’s also better for care teams. Virtual waiting rooms that automate patient education, intake, and check in free up admin teams from managing loads of paperwork. The payoff can be huge — hospital systems can literally save millions of dollars a year.

To pull this off, hospital systems will need to deploy smart, automated solutions that integrate to their backend EHR and practice management systems. Personalized chatbots that understand patients’ appointment schedules, how to prepare patients for their visits, and collect necessary intake forms, can deliver an efficient, intuitive process that makes it easy for patients to get ready for their visits on their own, all before even stepping foot in the hospital. Equipping overworked care teams with automated digital assistants that can handle hundreds or thousands of FAQ, intake, and check in conversations at once can free up staff to focus on providing care, all while improving patient experience and satisfaction.

This pandemic won’t be a permanent fixture in our lives, but its impact on customer service and the healthcare industry can be. Virtual waiting rooms can extend the waiting room beyond the four walls of a hospital and beyond the few hours a patient has to spend sitting in a hospital lobby. The hospital waiting room is now on-demand and on-the-go, the way it should be.

And you won’t even need to download an app.