By Margie Zable Fisher

Before COVID, it’s likely you, as a healthcare provider, spent a good amount of time and money creating the ideal waiting room.

But the pandemic changed everything. Waiting rooms became places that had to be endured for in-person visits. That included long distances between seats and lots of hand sanitizer.

The rise of telehealth meant that waiting rooms weren’t even a part of some patients’ appointment experience over the past few years.

Now that we are looking at a post-pandemic future, you may be wondering if you should make some changes to your waiting room.

A recent survey conducted by YouGov for Lifelink Systems provides some useful insights.

Waiting Rooms: What Consumers Want

First, respondents were asked to rate a typical waiting room experience. The survey showed that 74% of respondents rated a typical waiting room experience as fair or poor.

It makes sense. Most people don’t like waiting in potentially germy places, especially in these times.

Next, participants were presented with the concept of virtual waiting rooms. They would be able to use their mobile phones to check in. Plus, they could complete paperwork before arriving at a doctor’s office.

A whopping 80% of respondents said that virtual waiting rooms sounded better than an in-person waiting room. In effect, cars would be replacing waiting rooms for check-ins and waits.

Not sure if these statistics apply to your practice location or demographic? The 2,400+ U.S. adult participants were from a variety of age, income, ethnic and geographic groups, and the results were generally the same across all categories.

If you’ve ever considered switching to a virtual waiting room model, now may be the time. Not only is it what patients want, but it can be a good financial move.

Waiting rooms take up valuable real estate space. You might want to consider decreasing the total space your practice needs. You could even shift some of the waiting room space to exam rooms.

How to Implement Virtual Waiting Rooms for In-Patient Visits

You’ll need to do some planning and preparation to implement a successful virtual waiting room process.

Think about the activities that take place in your waiting room that can happen virtually:

  • Before the waiting room, patients will want to schedule their appointment online
  • Patients can fill out paperwork, including intake forms and insurance information, prior to check-in, at home or on the go, through a computer or mobile device, and upload documents to your CRM for safekeeping
  • They can use an online portal to check in virtually
  • You’ll want to notify waiting patients by text message that they can come into the office for their scheduled appointment

Then consider how to minimize waiting room interactions that will need to take place in person:

  • If you require temperatures to be taken, you can send someone outside to take it before patients walk into the office, or as soon as they come into the office, they can go to the front desk
  • For payments, set up contactless payment processing that makes it easy for them to pay right from their smartphone

Train Your Team

Your team is critical to the success of the virtual waiting room system. You can use a centralized system like Thryv for Health & Wellness to manage the patient’s customer experience, beginning to end.

This integrates patient intake information with document storage. With Thryv, you can customize and automate message streams to your patients before, during and after appointments.

To make it effective, however, your team will need to be trained on the processes (which is why Thryv provides free, 24/7 support).

In addition, patients may have more questions and need some (virtual) hand-holding to use all of the technology. Make sure your staff can answer questions, and they are willing to cheerfully walk through those answers over the phone with patients.

Inform Patients

It’s likely that your patients have increased their online use during the pandemic. Still, shifting to virtual waiting rooms is a big change. Explain to patients that you’re making this change to increase their safety and satisfaction.

Provide as much information as possible, on both the online and in-person part of the waiting room process. For example, let patients know ahead of time if you will be taking their temperature, and what that process will look like.

Also, let them know that your staff is willing to provide one-on-one assistance by phone if they are having difficulty inputting or accessing information.

Virtual waiting rooms offer an experience that patients want, and a strong case for you to make more or save money. Now is a great time to make virtual waiting rooms a reality for your practice.