Clinic Operations After COVID-19: Why Waiting Rooms and Flag Systems Will Become Things of the Past

by Betsy Kraft, Manager of Enterprise Visibility Clinical Programs at Wake Forest Baptist Health for Infinite Leap

Most of us have been a patient at a busy clinic, waiting to see a doctor. With our heightened awareness of contact risks, we will be much more aware of spending time in congested waiting rooms, surrounded by other patients waiting for care. We will be even more cognizant of how long we have waited, because every minute spent in the clinic potentially adds to the risk of being exposed to infections. This will add stress to our visit and will impact our satisfaction levels.

What if we could be roomed immediately after registration?
We would avoid sitting in the waiting room, and if the clinic staff were aware of which patients were registering, they could be ready to escort the patient immediately to their exam room, stopping along the way for lab work or vital signs as required.

This approach calls for an increased “digital visibility,” since care providers don’t typically have physical visibility into patient movement.

Time in the exam room needs to be shortened as well.
Realistically, as patients, we know that providers are seeing other patients, finishing documentation on a previous patient, or reviewing the history of the next patient, but we grow more anxious as we continue to wait. In a busy clinic, the physician may not even know we are waiting, let alone who has been waiting the longest or which care provider the patient is waiting for. The EMR does not track a patient’s status in realtime unless it is manually documented and then reviewed.

Some clinics try to use a multi-flag system to indicate the status of each room and patient, but this system is not able to answer a basic question driving patient workflow: “How long have patients been waiting in each phase of care?” 

In addition, these flags are often not used consistently by all staff members and therefore can provide misleading information. And if care providers can’t trust the system, it is quickly ignored.

Using Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) to location-enable patient flow allows care providers to see an at-a-glance list of their patients waiting to be seen, the order in which they should be seen, and their status. They know which rooms have patients in them, how long the patient has been alone, which staff the patient is with, and other status indicators. Plus, when you integrate your EHR system with RTLS-enabled patient flow, you can gain real-time visibility into patients’ risk factors.

This is something your flag system definitely can’t provide.

With an RTLS-enabled patient flow, the care team gains an electronic and updated real-time visibility board to efficiently manage their daily workflows. The best part of the system is that it is all automated, without manual entry required by care providers. The result is a mistake-proofed system that allows the care team to focus on care, and keeps patients safer.

So as you are rethinking how you will run your clinic after the COVID-19 surge, start looking at your processes from a new perspective, and replace antiquated systems like the flag system with tools that can make your practice safer and more efficient.