How To: Reduce Waiting Room Crowding and Limit the Spread of Illness During COVID-19

How To: Reduce Waiting Room Crowding and Limit the Spread of Illness During COVID-19: NextME Digital Waitlist App

Long wait times can hinder customer experience across a number of industries - from food services, to retail stores, to medical offices. However, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the potentially negative effects and dangers of overly crowded hospital waiting rooms and long wait times beyond an inconvenient patient experience. Specifically, they can increase the spread of illness to waiting patients and working staff. Similarly, long wait times create delays in treatment for the severely ill or injured patients - these scenarios can result in an increased risk of death for emergency departments. 

Guidelines for Reducing Waiting Room Crowding and Limiting the Spread of Disease

How To: Reduce Waiting Room Crowding and Limit the Spread of Illness During COVID-19: NextME Digital Waitlist App

With the increased risk that our current landscape brings, the OHSU School of Medicine has developed a set of guidelines to help reduce overcrowding and long wait times in emergency departments in order to improve patient experience and eliminate delayed patient care. Although these guidelines were made for emergency departments, they can be extended to cover waiting rooms across various clinics and physicians’ offices. Through interviewing top performing hospitals, OHSU School of Medicine narrowed down four Ways to reduce waiting room crowding, thus improving patient care. 

Support and Involvement of Medical Clinic Executives

First, a hospital or clinic must have strong support and involvement of their executive leadership teams. Cultural shifts happen from the top down and it’s imperative that leadership stands behind decisions made to keep waiting patients safe. Executives also control funding shifts and can set large projects in motion. 

Coordination and Involvement of All Medical Clinic Staff Members

Moving down the chain of command, a second way for hospitals to lessen patient wait times is for hospital care coordination to occur through the involvement of all staff members. For example, involving all staff members in the turnover process so multiple tasks can be done at once can open up more beds sooner for waiting patients.  

Use Predictive Analytics to Forecast Wait Times in Medical Clinics

NextME Predictive Analytics to Forecast Wait Times in Medical Clinics

Third, medical offices can leverage predictive analytics to forecast high traffic times and adjust their staff and practices accordingly. This can seem daunting and complicated for many local offices, but NextME is here to make it easy. Not only can NextME provide a digital waitlist system to limit the number of patients physically waiting together, our predictive analytics help medical clinics analyze their existing practices. This includes quoting wait times for patients and determining how to adjust to make the process more efficient and seamless. NextME has already helped Mid City Pediatrics, a physician's clinic in Louisiana, to improve their waiting room process during the Coronavirus pandemic. When the clinic began testing for COVID-19, they needed to pivot away from their existing waiting room set up to implement new protocols that keep patients and staff as safe as possible. As part of this protocol, they began screening patients at the door, asking patients to fill out virtual paperwork through NextME, and allowing symptomatic patients to wait in their vehicles until they received a text via NextME that it was their turn to be seen. As a result, Mid City was able to eliminate their crowded waiting rooms, separate sick patients from the healthy ones, and increase overall waiting room efficiency by using virtual paperwork and a text message-based apportionment system. 

High Staff Accountability

Finally, tying all of these concepts together leads to high staff accountability. Ensuring hospital and clinic staff are involved, knowledgeable, and responsible for their tasks in the hospital will help lower wait times, potentially saving lives. 

Implementing these four steps to improve the efficiency of waiting rooms is more important now than ever. COVID-19 is changing the landscape and consequences of crowded waiting rooms, and of patients’ willingness to enter those wait rooms. As we all begin to re-enter our communities, a new normal is needed to ensure the safety of patients across the country. Now might just be the perfect time to explore how a digital waitlist can move your business and organization forward into this new normal. Request a NextME demo today to discuss what we can do for you.


The New Normal - Managing Appointments and Virtual Waitlists During COVID-19

We’re deep in the middle of a global pandemic. Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has changed almost every facet of life, the whole world round. For those essential businesses still allowed to be open, it’s vital to manage customer flow so that there are no crowds of people passing around the virus at your location. 

Some businesses, like doctor’s offices and restaurants offering takeout, are used to the waiting area concept. This means as clients arrive, they check-in and then wait in a designated area until it’s their turn to be served. Other businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies, are used to just allowing customers to come and go as they please. But at peak times there may be long lines and crowds. In the midst of COVID-19, we can do better.

Emerging Best Practices on Digital Care in the Medical Sector

Fortunately, there are a number of ways essential businesses can still serve their clients without risking the health of everyone involved. The CDC has recommended we all keep at least 6 feet of space between ourselves and others. They’re also suggesting we all wear face masks to ensure that we are not spreading the virus even though we may be asymptomatic. But how does a doctor’s office still manage to still see patients without allowing them to congregate in a waiting room? How does a takeout service get meals to customers during the dinner rush without a line forming? Here are three ideas we’re seeing implemented across a wide variety of businesses.

Virtual Waiting Rooms 

Managing Appointments and Virtual Waitlists During COVID - Virtual Waiting Rooms

Photo Courtesy of Textedly

Rather than gathering in a crowd at the front of a restaurant or healthcare clinic, many businesses are implementing virtual waiting rooms. The idea is to allow people to check-in digitally and then wait in their cars or outside where they can maintain at least a six-foot distance around themselves. When it’s time for them to receive service or be allowed inside, they’ll receive a text message alerting them to come in. 

Drive-Thru or Curbside Service 

Managing Appointments and Virtual Waitlists During COVID - Drive-Thru Service

Photo Courtesy of U.S. News & World Report

We’re all familiar with the concept of a drive-thru in fast-food restaurants or our favorite coffee chain. But this idea is going far beyond hamburgers and fries. Large sit-down restaurants are making use of “curbside service” as are retailers. Customers place an order with a click or call and then park in front of the business. When their food is ready, their groceries are bagged, or it’s their turn to be tested for the virus, the business’s staff comes to them and offers service at their car. It’s not unlike the carhops of the 50s and 60s, but it’s now being practiced in all sorts of businesses. 

Remote Service

Managing Appointments and Virtual Waitlists During COVID - Remote Service

Photo Courtesy of The Business Times

Finally, the best option for social distancing is remote service. This includes contactless home delivery and virtual visits for service companies. One of the top industries for this type of service is medical care. For many medical concerns, a simple telemedicine appointment can diagnose and offer treatment options without the need to break quarantine. We’re also seeing many delivery services being used more than normal, including grocery shoppers like Instacart and Shipt or meal delivery services from Uber Eats or GrubHub.

How NextME Helps Essential Businesses Implement and Manage Digital Queues

The best practices above may seem like a nightmare to manage if you’ve never done it before. How do you keep track of all those customers and notify them in a timely manner when it’s their turn? With the help of NextME, of course. 

NextME is a virtual waitlist management system. Whether you’re managing a digital waiting room, a parking lot full of drive-up customers, or a queue of remote appointments, this simple app can help. The app was originally designed with restaurants in mind but has moved well beyond its origins. It’s been used to great effect in the event marketing world and is now moving into other industries like salons, repair services, retail, healthcare, and beyond. 

Managing Appointments and Virtual Waitlists During COVID

Here’s how it works. A customer or client checks in, whether from their home or from their car using NextMe's online portal on your website. Your patron's info populates into your waitlist app and patrons receive a separate text with a link in it. When they tap the web link found in their SMS text, they arrive at your custom branded waiting page. There they’ll see a countdown timer letting them know where they are in line. But they can also see your custom queue management process, carry out specials, retail sales promotions, service provider information, social media links, or anything else you want to share. When it’s almost their turn, they’ll get another text asking them to confirm. They can reply with a simple yes or no and either come inside or stay put and wait for you to come to them. 

The best parts? No mobile app for your customers to have to install. Everything is done by SMS and their preferred web browser. And you can integrate appointments made in advance with same day service requests – no additional software needed. 

Not sure this would work outside the restaurant model? Check out what Kasey Osbon, office manager for Mid City Pediatrics said. “Even prior to COVID-19, we’ve been looking for a digital waitlist system like NextME for years. Moving forward, we can now assure our patients that they can wait and check into our facility in a safe and efficient manner.”

The New “Normal” 

You may think it’s just easier to go with a pen and paper waitlist for the next few weeks until things get back to normal. Unfortunately, this pandemic may not let us off so easily. 

Experts agree that there’s likely to be a new normal, even after the stay at home orders are lifted. When “shelter in place” is no longer required, the virus will still be out there. We’re likely to continue to see waves of infection until a vaccine is created and distributed. That means your business will still want to maintain these best practices long after the current rules have expired. It’s the safest way to protect your customers, your employees, and the community at large.

NextME Virtual Online Waitilst - COVID-19

A virtual waiting list is also more convenient for customers. Instead of sitting in a crowded waiting area, they can run an errand, take a stroll around the block, or just soak up the sunshine outside. So even after Coronavirus is little more than a bad memory, this technology can help your business grow and thrive.

Now might just be the perfect time to explore how a digital waitlist can move your business forward into this new normal. Request a NextME demo today to discuss what we can do for you.