Before I harsh on MedWaitTime, which I will do shortly, I do want to say that the company’s heart is in the right place –to make life easier for patients whose doctors and hospitals are keeping them waiting. The company’s smartphone app and text messages let doctors notify patients that they are running late and lets emergency rooms provide information on waiting time. The idea is to avoid having patients arrive at the waiting room too soon –just like airlines do with their flight status notifications.
I read about the company in today’s Wall Street Journal (Internet Tool to Curb Waiting-Room Time).
There are a number of problems with the approach:
- As an experienced user of the airline flight status systems, I can tell you they are of little practical benefit. Flights are usually listed as on-time until it’s time to get to the airport. Once there it’s not that helpful when a delay pops up. The eventual departure time is almost never what the first or second update says it will be. You’ll also notice that there’s usually a disclaimer that says to show up on time anyway, since schedules can change. All these issues are likely to be present in the doctor’s office as well
- Doctors offices have to be careful using these systems, since they could exacerbate their scheduling problems. If a doctor is running one hour late, what is he going to tell his patients? To come one hour late? 45 minutes? 30 minutes? If the office is completely honest patients might show up late for the revised appointment and push the doctor’s schedule back farther. If the patient is told it’s a 30 minute delay but then has to wait another 30 minutes upon arrival anyway, satisfaction will suffer and the patient will game the system on the next appointment, making everything will go haywire
- Information on wait times has to be entered and updated manually. Can we really trust office staff to keep on top of this throughout the day, day after day? I highly doubt it
- Emergency room patients are not seen on a first-come/first-serve basis, so having information on wait times is not too helpful without corresponding triage information on the specific patient relative to others in the waiting room. It could be modestly helpful, though, in deciding which hospital to go to
Waiting room times are a fairly small part of the overall access and customer service problem in health care. In my opinion there’s no need for a new system and dedicated company for waiting room notifications. Maybe MedWaitTime will prove me wrong but I don’t think they have a business here. Doctors offices would do better to collect cell phone info from patients and text or call the day of the appointment if there’s a problem. They can also make the waiting room more pleasant and educational.
I also recommend open access scheduling for physicians offices. This addresses the much more troublesome issue of long lead times for appointments. I don’t really mind waiting 30 minutes in the waiting room for a same day appointment. I do mind getting an appointment date weeks or months out.May 25, 2010