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Patient Journey Mapping with an Advanced Queuing System

by Qtrac

Long waits may be inevitable in healthcare, but that doesn’t mean patients are happy about the situation.

A 2018 report found that 30 percent of patients had walked out of an appointment because of a long wait. The same research discovered that 20 percent of patients had changed physicians because of long wait times.

Long wait times can also negatively affect Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey results. Poor CAHPS scores affect Medicare Advantage star ratings, and poor star ratings can scare off current and prospective patients.

Patient journey mapping offers a way to assess how patients feel about their experience with a healthcare provider, including wait times. From mapping, organizations can make improvements that benefit both themselves and the consumer. Here’s a closer look at patient journey mapping and why advanced queuing systems offer a powerful tool for enhancing the patient experience.

What Is a Patient Journey Map?

A patient journey map is the series of interactions that customers make with providers to receive care. The process may involve numerous touchpoints, including:

  • The booking of the appointment, whether the patient or the provider is initiating the contact
  • Any confirmation or rescheduling of the appointment
  • The filling out of a questionnaire or health history prior to the appointment
  • Patient check-in
  • The patient’s wait for service, whether in a designated waiting area or an exam room
  • Lab work
  • The on-site pharmacy
  • Follow-up from the medical staff
  • Booking of another appointment
  • Patient satisfaction surveys
  • Interaction with the billing department

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All these touchpoints are for just one visit. Of course, patient journey mapping may differ from patient to patient, physician to physician, and provider to provider. Journeys might also differ even from visit to visit—for example, the experience could change depending on the day of the week, the volume of appointments, the time of day or the season, whether there’s a global pandemic in progress, and so on.

Why Patient Journey Mapping Matters

Healthcare is unfortunately notorious for waiting. Patients may have to wait on hold to make an appointment or ask a question, wait to check in on the day of their appointment, wait to be taken to the exam room, wait for the doctor to see them when they’re in the exam room, wait for blood to be drawn at the lab, and so on. Besides the obvious inefficiencies of these waits, the patient experience suffers—and can be compounded if the patient is already sick or injured and would benefit from care sooner instead of later.

Many of the bottlenecks aren’t necessarily the providers’ intention—nobody is trying to make life more difficult for patients. Yet, when the emphasis is so understandably focused on care, everything else that goes into the patient experience, such as wait times, scheduling, and simple comfort, can be overlooked. The patient journey might then go all over the place and, metaphorically, get stuck in traffic jam after traffic jam.

Where the Patient Journey Map Breaks Down

Ideally, patients move from touchpoint to touchpoint along their journey with minimal disruption or static. But this perfect scenario, which is sometimes beyond the provider’s control, is rare. Pain points that negatively impact the patient experience include:

  • Scheduling: Limited availability for appointments might mean patients will be waiting weeks for non-critical care. That may be frustrating and sometimes unavoidable, but waiting on hold for a long time just to find out you can’t get in for an appointment for two months makes the frustration even worse.
  • Check-in: Waiting in a queue simply to check in for an appointment often creates more stress for patients. Privacy can be difficult when there’s a line, even when the queue designates that people must stand back a certain distance. Although social distancing has spread queues out a bit (if there’s space to do so), a long check-in process gets an appointment off to a rough start.
  • Waiting areas: Many physician offices have signs asking you to check back in with the receptionist desk if you’ve been waiting more than, say, 20 minutes. The idea that you might be stuck waiting 20 minutes—particularly as people around you in the lobby show symptoms of whatever’s ailing them—can ruin the experience even before you receive care.
  • Long waits in the exam room: Most patients, at one time or another, have felt the relief of getting to the exam room, had their temperature and blood pressure taken by a nurse … then waited another half-hour for the doctor for service. These delays are sometimes unavoidable but are nonetheless tedious, if not stressful, for patients.
  • The trip to the lab: Whether the patient gets lab work done before the appointment or after the exam, there’s always a potential wait—particularly if it’s unscheduled. If it’s ahead of time, at least patients can plan accordingly. If it’s afterward, the visit is prolonged, and waiting for that phone call or email for results can be nerve-wracking, depending on what the lab work was testing.
  • Discharge: The exam is over and the patient is ready to leave … but the provider isn’t ready to let them go. Discharge delays often feel unnecessary to patients and are minutes that they’ll never get back.

Billing, prescriptions, rescheduling, and other interactions can also hurt the patient experience. If the visit was for something routine, pain points are annoying. If it’s for something more serious, the pain points are potentially making life worse for the patient.

Improving the Patient Journey

Mapping the patient journey shouldn’t just be examining people’s experiences, but also improving them. These three strategies are a good start toward achieving more efficiency, better outcomes, and happier patients:

1. Improve Communication

A struggle that patients often feel is that they simply don’t know what’s going on or why they’re being forced to wait. Better communication gives patients information in a setting where they’re craving as much information as possible. Just saying, “It will be 10 minutes, the doctor is really busy today,” can help patients feel as if they are more in control.

2. Talk to Staff

Physicians, nurses, assistants, receptionists, technicians, and other staffers are one side of many patient journey touchpoints. Dismissing efficiency problems as “Oh, these employees need to do better,” ignores the real issues and struggles they face when trying to provide the best patient experience possible. Staff input is essential when mapping—and improving—the patient journey.

3. Analyze Patient Experiences

Anecdotally, it’s easy to detect when patients are frustrated at a certain touchpoint. Overall, assessing their experience isn’t so obvious. CAHPS surveys and other patient surveys help identify what customers were happy or unhappy with and why the experience might have been less than satisfactory. The data can show correlation, too—for example, are patients who wait for a long time to check-in less satisfied with the care the physician provided?

How an Advanced Queuing System Helps Patient Journey Mapping

Advanced queuing systems are changing the game for healthcare providers as they strive to create better patient journeys. Virtual queues, digital appointment scheduling, and text notifications offer a range of benefits for patients and providers alike. Some of those benefits include:

  1. Easier scheduling: Advanced queuing systems allow patients to digitally schedule appointments at their own convenience—and not worry about office hours and being put on hold. They can leave questions and comments when they make the appointment so that the provider has a better idea of any special needs or concerns.
  2. Accurate wait times: Virtual queuing can keep track of how many people are waiting to be seen and better estimate wait times. For walk-in service, potential patients can see how long the wait might be and plan accordingly. Moreover, all patients can get a better idea of when they’ll be seen and not feel so tethered to a lobby or waiting area.
  3. Efficiency: Queue management helps operations move smoothly, even during peak periods and busy days. Patients may still need to wait for service, but at least the bottlenecks won’t bring the operation to a halt.
  4. Analytics: Advanced queuing systems can collect robust data on wait times, patient volume, length of visits, interactions with the application, and more. These metrics deliver a clearer view of patient journey mapping as well as inform strategy.
  5. Happier patients: Waits might never be eliminated from healthcare settings, but when they’re minimized, patients ultimately benefit. A smoother scheduling process and better interactions with staff also streamline the patient journey, allowing people to better focus on their health and not worry about how much time they’ll need to spend dealing with unimportant logistics.
  6. Happier employees: Dealing with the queue and appointment scheduling isn’t easy for staff, particularly when patients are stressed out and direct that stress toward employees. Advanced queuing makes employees’ jobs easier and allows them to better prioritize the patient experience.

Advanced queuing systems for patient journey mapping aren’t just for healthcare organizations such as a doctor’s or dentist’s office or urgent care. Any clinical setting can benefit from virtual queuing and appointment scheduling—vaccination hubs, counseling departments, vision centers, and even veterinarians. Qtrac has decades of experience serving clinics’ queuing needs, as well as a best-in-class solution to transform how your organization manages patients. Schedule a demo to learn more.

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