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Web-based tool lets patients check wait times
From: Technology for Doctors Online

CHICAGO – A new Web-based tool seeks to help patients spend less time in the waiting room before seeing their doctor. The application, called MedWaitTime, allows patients to check before their appointment whether their doctor is running late, akin to getting a flight-status update before going to the airport.

In May, 10 physicians working in the Chicago area became the first to offer a Web-based tool, called MedWaitTime, that allows patients to check whether their doctor is running behind prior to an appointment, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Vishal Mehta – an orthopedic surgeon and founder of Medical Wait Time, which developed the tool – said he expects a major physical therapy chain and two hospital systems to begin offering the tool, as well.

Patients can access the MedWaitTime website up to two hours before their appointment and can choose to receive text messages alerting them about wait times.

As more health care providers implement the tool, patients will be able to use the service to review wait times for emergency care centers by ZIP Code.

Mehta said his company intends to charge $50 monthly per physician and $300 monthly per hospital department for using the service. The company also intends to develop an iPhone application for the tool, Mehta said.

According to the company, MedWaitTime can be configured to be fully automated in order to work with existing EMR systems.

Andrew Wilper, a physician at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said publicizing wait time data is a “reasonable” idea, but added that the new technology is unlikely to address the issues that have contributed to long wait times, such as an increase in patient load and decline in medical staff resources.

Still, patients have long complained about the wait times at their doctors’ offices. In fact, a Consumer Reports survey ranked patient wait times as the #1 complaint among patients. Almost a quarter of the 39,000 patients interviewed complained of waiting longer than 30 minutes to see their doctor. (Source: Consumer Reports, February 2007; pp 32-36. News release, Consumer Reports).

Patients place a significant amount of value on time spent waiting to see their doctor. An article in the New York Times estimates that the cost associated with the time spent waiting exceeds over $5 billion each year.  And according to the article, Americans waited over 847 million hours for medical services in 2007.

Consulting groups and medical associations have spent significant time and resources trying to find solutions to this dilemma. “Workflow Planning,” “Medical Process Management,” and “Management Consulting” are some of the terms used by consultants in trying to find solutions to this conundrum. However, they have yet to come up with a good way to decrease patient wait times and raise patient satisfaction.

MedWaitTime provides a way for doctors and hospitals to inform their patients about the current wait time and reasons for the delay. Informed waiting reduces the stress on patients and can limit the amount of dissatisfaction experienced while waiting.