The era of crowded medical waiting rooms came to an end. As people have come to expect checking the status of their flight prior to leaving for the airport, they can now do the same prior to leaving home for their doctor appointment.
Last month, ten physician practices launched a new service called MedWaitTime. Patients are now able to see via their computers, iPhones, or cell phones the current waiting room status of their doctors. The system, for instance, tells patients if their doctor is running late, and more importantly, how late to arrive.
“I got the idea from my patients,” says Dr. Vishal Mehta, one of the inventors of the system. The successful orthopedic surgeon was concerned about making his own patients wait because of his unpredictable schedule. “They would be happy with their care, but the most common complaint I’d hear is that they’ve had to wait to see me.”
Indeed, studies have shown that the time a patient spends in the waiting room is the single biggest determinant of whether they’re happy with their overall care. (A bigger factor than even the time they get with their doctors.)
Dr. Mehta continues, “My patients would tell me they understand that emergencies happen but why can’t we just call them so they can arrive later?” So, Dr. Mehta set out to develop a solution to address his patients’ concerns, which resulted in MedWaitTime.
From a user perspective, the system is similar to checking the status of a flight before leaving for the airport. Prior to the scheduled appointment time, a patient checks the MedWaitTime website for the status of their appointment. The website tells the patient whether there are any delays, the reason for the delay, and how late the patient should arrive after his/her scheduled appointment time. Patients can even sign up to receive text message or email updates with this information.
“Patients get regular updates on their doctor’s schedule, whether they should arrive late, and how late, all by text messaging.”
The input data comes from receptionists or medical staff who periodically enter the real-time wait information via a secure “back office” portal. The system is easy to use and fast – it takes less than 15 seconds to update the wait information for a doctor.
The pioneering service is also available for hospital departments (e.g. mammography, blood drawing, CT scans, etc.). In addition, anyone with a minor injury can access the site and instantly see not only the distance to nearby urgent care centers, but the current waiting times at those centers as well.
Clinics participating in the launch include internists, orthopedic surgeons, family practitioners, chiropractors, podiatrists and dentists. The service is affordable ($50 per month for a single doctor) and Dr. Mehta says feedback from colleagues and patients has been “incredible.”
The orthopedic surgeon says “Checking the web could soon be a routine part of every trip to a doctor or hospital. And it’s about time. It’s time to end the enormous waste from people sitting around and doing nothing when they could be productive somewhere else.”
“This has the potential to end the time wasted in hundreds of thousands of clinics every day across the country,” says Dr. Mehta.