Social distancing: Waiting room tips for a better experience
The last few months have given us a crash course in social distancing. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve gotten in the practice of staying six feet apart, avoiding crowded places, and wearing masks. But how can medical practices encourage social distancing in waiting rooms known for small spaces, crowded seating, and visitors whose common purpose is to see a doctor?
As practices reopen for elective procedures and non-urgent appointments, safeguarding employee and patient safety begins with the patient waiting room experience. Now, more than ever, the waiting room should be a welcoming, calming place. In 2020, that means pre-screening, social distancing, and readily available hand sanitizer, in addition to appealing décor and comfortable furniture to make patients feel at home.
Read on for seven social distancing waiting room ideas:
Inform patients of new policies prior to the visit.
As your practice expands safety measures, you can set expectations for patients by communicating new protocols to them before they arrive for their appointment.
Whether your practice requires patients to wear masks or restricts family members or children from coming along, make sure patients are aware of the new guidelines. Additionally, calling patients before visits provides an opportunity to pre-screen them for an elevated temperature and other COVID-19 symptoms.
Mary Tolbert, Business Office Manager of San Luis Dermatology & Laser Clinic, described how patients are informed of new safety measures before they enter the facility.
“All our scheduled patients have been asked to wear a mask or face covering and to call from their car upon arrival,” she said.
By clarifying expectations ahead of time, practices can give patients the information they need to feel at ease proceeding through the visit, despite all the changes.
Implement pre-registration and digital check-in.
Digital check-in tools can help practices increase front office efficiency and reduce wait times. In the aftermath of COVID-19, practices have turned to these solutions to avoid long lines and prolonged face-to-face interactions.
A key part of creating the best waiting room experience is keeping wait times to a minimum. An automated check-in solution can help accomplish this by decreasing patients’ contact with the front desk and speeding their process through the facility.
Leitchfield Pediatric Clinic relies on Phreesia for a paperless check-in. A Greenway Marketplace Partner, Phreesia offers a mobile check-in solution that allows patients to pre-register, as well as to update their insurance information, ID, or other paperwork from their home, car, or other location.
“We are asking and recommending that all patients be preregistered,” said Stephanie Priddy, Office Manager at Leitchfield Pediatric. “All patients and parents are screened for COVID-19 symptoms through the pre-registration process.”
Establish triage procedures and pre-screen patients outside.
Many practices have implemented pre-screening stations outside office entrances as an alternative to the check-in desks adjoining waiting rooms. Practices can use these stations to conduct temperature checks and symptom history reviews before patients enter the building.
For practices that lack the resources or capacity to do COVID-19 testing and treatment, pre-screening can enable them to direct symptomatic patients to appropriate locations for care.
Mike Popp, President of MJP Healthcare Consulting, described how one of his clients checks temperatures and asks questions on site and diverts patients accordingly.
“At the entrance of the clinic, they have two nurses stationed in full PPE, taking everyone’s temperature and asking four to five questions about COVID-19 symptoms,” Mike said. “If anyone is presenting COVID-19 symptoms, they’re forwarding them to the hospital, not the clinic.”
Stagger appointments to space out patients.
Another strategy to promote social distancing at your practice is to space out in-person appointments. Medical Colleagues of Texas staggers visits using its Intergy EHR, limiting patient volume to one patient per provider per hour.
“The person screening outside has a computer to make sure our waiting rooms and our exam rooms aren’t at capacity,” said Ethan Bing, Practice Administrator. “And if they are, the patient is instructed to wait in their car. That way we ensure maximum social distancing.”
Providers can keep their schedules full by conducting telehealth visits in the gaps between in-person appointments.
Keep sick and well patients separate.
By making multiple facility entrances available, practices can separate possible COVID-19 patients from people with increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Practices could, for example, leave a central waiting room open for people who possibly have symptoms while making another area available for those most at risk.
Christine Kelly, President and Owner, CMK Consulting, described how her client, a pediatric practice, found success with this method.
“They have two ‘sick’ and two ‘well’ locations,” Christine said. “Once they communicated to their patients how they’re making a safe environment, they’re seeing a lot of well visits.”
Another option is to divide a daily schedule to see well patients during one part of the day and symptomatic patients during another. This approach means sick and well patients are less likely to be in the waiting room at the same time. It also provides an opportunity to sanitize common areas between shifts.
Rethink waiting room furniture, layout, and design.
Removing chairs is a simple strategy to encourage social distancing in the waiting room. You can also pair this tactic with a backup plan, such as an overflow room.
Evansville Surgical Associates adjusted its waiting room layout so there are fewer seats. If the main waiting room is full, practice staff direct patients to a second waiting room.
“A big thing for us in clinic now is just keeping patients out of the waiting area,” said Tara Foncannon, Director of Clinical Operations and Strategic Initiatives. “We try to get them as quickly back into our room as we possibly can.”
When it comes to layout and design, it’s possible to encourage waiting room social distancing while creating a positive environment. Having hand sanitizer readily available can put apprehensive patients at ease. You can also set out two pen holders: one for disinfected pens for patients to use and a separate pen holder where they can place the pen after use. Clearly label each pen holder to differentiate them.
As much as possible, try to create as normal and pleasant an atmosphere as possible — with extra touches like potted plants or a television. Since patients may not want to pick up magazines in your waiting room, you can display lists of health-oriented websites they can browse on their phones.
Skip the waiting room entirely with digital check-in solutions.
Another option to comply with social distancing guidelines is to simply ask patients to wait in their cars until they receive a text or call to enter the office.
Patients aren’t likely to feel inconvenienced by such a policy. Many may feel more comfortable in the familiar environment of their car.
“Like so many others, we are not currently utilizing our waiting room,” said Laurie Viebrock, Practice Administrator, Roswell Pediatric Center. “We room patients immediately or ask them to wait in their cars. We text patients when a room is available.”
If you’re looking for a digital check-in solution, here are a few Greenway Marketplace Partners to consider:
Phreesia’s Patient Intake Platform provides digital intake and consent forms to save office staff time and transform the patient experience. In response to COVID-19, Phreesia launched Zero-Contact Intake, a solution that allows practices to perform all necessary intake tasks while reducing contact between staff and patients.
- GetWell Practice
GetWell Practice digital patient check-in maximizes practice efficiency and boosts patient satisfaction through workflows that operate in tandem with your Greenway EHR. It goes beyond patient check-in to include scheduling, health education, and post-appointment surveys.
Clearwave Patient Check-in Kiosk and Mobile Pre-Check offer efficient options for patient registration and check-in. The self-serve kiosk enables patients to scan their own driver’s license and insurance cards and pay copays and outstanding balances.
CheckinAsyst is an end-to-end digital intake platform from HealthAsyst. CheckinAsyst Zero-touch Patient Intake with COVID-19 Pre-screening provides zero-touch payment options, pre-visit instructions before scheduled appointments, and more.
How do you maintain a patient waiting room in the “new normal”?
Many practices look forward to using their waiting rooms as they did prior to the pandemic. But in the meantime, you can follow these seven tips to get your practice on track for safe interactions with patients.
While the number of telehealth visits has soared during the pandemic, there still remains the necessity for in-person treatment. In these situations, ensuring a safe — and comfortable — environment for patients and staff is a must.