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Health + Tech | Taking cue from hospital queues

Published:Sunday | April 28, 2019 | 12:00 AMDoug Halsall
Doug Halsall
Patients wait for check-ups at a health fair at Kingston Public Hospital on December 1, 2018.
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Despite the very commendable effort of the Ministry of Health to reduce waiting time at public hospitals, it is still a major issue. A staff member at my company related to me that she took her grandmother to Kingston Public Hospital from 7 a.m. on a Friday for an assessment and did not leave the facility until 9 p.m.

This poses several problems, one of which obviously has to do with productivity, as an entire day off from work was required to achieve this.

Another is the high level of frustration that persons face accessing care, which, in itself, is not good for their health and well-being, and in this particular case, the elderly patient was close to 90 years old. This cannot be good healthwise for someone at that age.

I have written before about how technology can reduce waiting time at health facilities, but previous discussions and indeed the Government’s interest in this area tend to focus more on Accident and Emergency departments. However, more and more, I am beginning to understand that waiting time is a chronic problem all around, in almost every aspect of hospital care, and that it needs immediate attention, even if a phased approached is employed. As they say, baby steps.

Before we even get into the solution, however, we need to dispense with the useless appointment system that now obtains. There is a perception of an appointment, not an actual one, and this already creates a psychological expectation that remains unmanaged and, therefore, negatively affects customer experience.

Let’s face it, everyone coming at the same time to see a medical practitioner is not practical and breeds frustration.

That said, one of the first initiatives that health facilities can consider is an improvement in queue management by employing technology to manage the process.

Queue management is simply the process by which patients are received and guided through the health facility in an efficient and systematic manner. Importantly, at every stage, the patient is aware of what is expected of them now and what’s next, especially in terms of waiting time. That way, we give them enough information to make their decisions on how to proceed instead of waiting indefinitely – as it stands now – for a result or change in their status.

Increasing Efficiency

This is important because where the patient has the first point of contact with the facility will set the stage for future interaction and impressions. It will also increase efficiency throughout the system.

The Health Information Management System being used at The University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) has queue management as one of its many modules. Other practice management systems available in Jamaica have queue management as a component because its importance is widely recognised as a means of bringing efficiency and improved service delivery to health facilities and medical practices.

Queue management works by electronically quantifying demand and progress in real time. Most systems allow for a display on an electronic screen of current patients, indicating those being served, those waiting, how long they are expected to wait, their position in ‘line’, status in relation to others, and allowing for staff to have a real idea of the flow of patients and requirements to manage that flow.

Although seemingly a simple concept, queue management can provide valuable real-time information and analytics to a health facility. Queue management can allow a facility to determine the staff and tools required to satisfy patient demand. It can also ensure accuracy and efficiency in scheduling based on actual information captured from the system and the reporting that it provides.

Technology can solve several problems that we experience today in the health sector. While queue management has obvious benefits to the current push by the Government to reduce waiting time, that is just the tip of the iceberg.

A good queue-management system like the one currently being used in the outpatient clinics at UHWI begins from registration and can take a patient straight through conducting tests and procedures, while allowing the hospital to properly determine requirements to fulfil the demand satisfactorily.

- Doug Halsall is chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and doug.halsall@gmail.com.