Tue | Jun 15, 2021

Health + Tech | Electronic patient scheduling saves time, money

Published:Sunday | May 16, 2021 | 12:06 AM

The long wait for non-emergency healthcare, both privately and publicly, can be frustrating. Such is the extent of the problem that, some years ago, the Ministry of Health began to focus specific interventions on reducing waiting times at public-health facilities. Still, waiting time remains a problem, which I don’t believe we will be able to effectively tackle without the help of technology.

People are becoming more demanding where customer service in healthcare is concerned. This includes ensuring that time is used effectively and efficiently, and it is why there has been a renewed focus on waiting time. This does not mean that we want everything done in minutes. It means that we want to know how much time, in reasonable amounts, we will be expected to dedicate to waiting, so that we can better plan. We, therefore, need a system that will allow for the organisation of time into blocks, determined by the average need within a particular discipline. This also must allow for some level of flexibility.

A patient-scheduling system that includes queue management can take care of this requirement. Patient scheduling is the first step in booking an appointment. Queue management is the mechanism by which patients are received and guided through the healthcare system. This begins with an appointment and does not conclude until the patient is seen and leaves the facility. Every step of the way throughout this process, both the patient and physician are aware of their status, especially in terms of the amount of time pending before seeing the physician, time spent, and time remaining on the visit.

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.

Setting the stage for positive interaction

This removes the frustration often seen in systems where patients are made to wait indefinitely and may lash out at staff as a result. The experience will most likely set the stage for future interaction with the facility and its personnel, and, with an effectively managed system, it will most likely be a positive one.

A patient-scheduling system can allow for patients to make their own appointments electronically. This kind of self-scheduling is more efficient; it removes the stress from staff having to manage multiple phone calls and walk-ins to do this, and also reduces errors such as double-booking, which the system would not allow without alerting the person making the appointment. In this way, it frees up staff to undertake more complex tasks, saving costs and using human resource more efficiently while allowing patients to be able to manage their appointments on their own, increasing patient satisfaction.

This also helps to keep patients and physicians on top of the care continuum. The system can nudge when there is need for a follow-up appointment or when the doctor requires the patient to come in for routine examinations. Ideally, a system that can be integrated with the electronic health records and other healthcare-related modules would work best to assist the organisation overall in improving efficiency and saving costs while keeping both patient and facility on track.

Queue management and electronic patient scheduling can together provide valuable real-time information and analytics to a health facility that can help with adjusting to the needs of both the patient and the facility. They can also point to areas that need improvement and show those in which patients are being adequately served. Queue management can allow a facility to determine the staff and tools required to satisfy patient demand as well as ensure the proper running of the facility. It can also ensure accuracy and efficiency in scheduling, based on actual information captured from the system and the reporting that it provides.

Doug Halsall is chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Send feedback to doug.halsall@gmail.com.