Online Tool Takes the 'Wait' Out of Waiting Rooms

Cynthia Johnson for HealthLeaders Media, December 27, 2010

When you schedule a doctor's appointment, you know that you are probably destined to spend the majority of your time in a waiting room. If you're lucky, the office will have a good selection of magazines from this decade to peruse while you wonder what the holdup is. Waiting without understanding why can be frustrating; however, a new company has developed technology that takes the "wait" out of the waiting room and lets you get back to your hectic schedule.

In May, Chicago-based MedWaitTime launched a service enabling patients to check the current wait time of a physicianoffice or healthcare facility. Patients canaccess the online information via computer or from amobile device, such as an iPhone®. Users canalso enter an e-mail address or phone number toreceive realtime status updates one or two hoursprior to a scheduled appointment.

A physician's schedule can get backed up for a variety of reasons, says Vishal Mehta, MD, a practicing orthopedic surgeon and founder of MedWaitTime. Phone calls from the emergency department, from previous patients, and from referring physicians constantly interrupt a physician's workday, causing delays in care. Many of these phone calls also result in new and follow-up appointments that need to be scheduled quickly.

For a physician who books 30 patients per day, the earliest time he or she would be able to see many of these patients would be in one month, says Mehta. Since most people find this unacceptable — and rightly so—the office staff add the patients who need to see a doctor immediately to the schedule, which often results in the practice running an hour to an hour and a half late.

"In my personal life, I would be mortified if I didn't call and tell you that I was going to be late," says Mehta. "So why should I not do that in my own professional practice?"

Giving patients the green light
Before MedWaitTime, Mehta says his patients would routinely ask him whether the office could send notification when he ran behind. He says that although they understood the nature of emergencies, they also wanted the option of coming in later rather than sitting in the waiting room.

"The answer to that question has been no," he says. "If my secretary takes the time to make phone calls to tell everybody that we're running behind, then she's even further behind checking patients out—it's a vicious cycle."

Mehta realized that he needed to automate the process, so he developed MedWaitTime. Offices can use the online service to enter updates that indicate whether they are running on time (shown by a green clock image), running behind (shown by a yellow clock image), or experiencing significant delays (shown by a red clock image). The system relies on the color-coded system, since entering an exact time could result in downtime for physicians between patients.

If users want to employ an automated process rather than manually entering wait times, they can import any system file that computes the time between when a patient arrives and when that patient checks out.

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