Many aspects of a patient’s healthcare experience look much different today from a typical experience in February 2020. From temperature checks and masks to greeting receptionists behind plexiglass screens, these swift changes to the experience of a healthcare visit were very straightforward. Something that has not been so straightforward, though, is the re-construction of facility waiting rooms.
No Clear-Cut Solution
Unlike the easy fix of taking every patient’s temperature upon arrival, there isn’t really a one-size fits all approach to waiting rooms. Having patients wait in their cars to check-in may work well in a suburban community and be a laughable solution for urban facilities. Likewise, having individual waiting spaces may not physically be possible in all facilities.
So, let’s break down some of these options and take a closer look at pros and cons of each.
- Fully Virtual: The obvious answer for waiting rooms may be the same answer to everything else in life right now—make it virtual. This was an easy transition for many facilities that already utilized a technological check-in system rather than speaking with front-desk personnel. This streamlines the process, eliminates human error from staff, and ensures a consistent patient experience.
While moving to virtual may make sense in work and school spaces, health care must remain accessible for all, regardless of technology or even the aptitude for using that tech. So, if using virtual waiting rooms, know that you may need to be prepared for back-up solutions to assist patients through that process.
- Individual Waiting Spaces: Individual waiting spaces are small, closed off areas resembling office cubicles that patients and their families may wait in upon arrival or after check-in. These provide both social-distancing separation and a solution to a separate pre-COVID issue—patent privacy concerns. Patients and families often struggle to find space in a waiting room to discuss personal health matters, and individual spaces may be the perfect solution for providing physical space for this.
On the other hand, building up these individual waiting areas will almost surely reduce an overall waiting room capacity. They are also still a physical surface that will need to be cleaned thoroughly after each visit.
- Outdoor Waiting: Similar to virtual waiting rooms, a phenomenon has popped up across healthcare facilities during the COVID era directing patients to stay in their parked cars and call the office upon arrival. A staff member may then phone the patients when ready or physically call out to them outside.
This approach is easier and more accessible to use for all patients compared to a virtual waiting room but is still imperfect. Especially in areas with high volumes of patients using ride shares or public transportation, this can be in a pain point for their experience. Similarly, the weather can put a damper on a system that relies on a staff member walking outside for every patient check-in.