Friday, August 30, 2013

Wait watchers


No one likes the uncertainty of waiting. At the MGH, a new system aimed at providing patients with an accurate indicator of wait-time is now being implemented in the hospital’s Medical Walk-In Unit.

“We know that a significant part of patient satisfaction is based on wait-time,” said James Stahl, MD, a physician scientist in the MGH Department of Medicine and the Institute for Technology Assessment. “So from that perspective, this system really is expected to become an easy tool for patients to receive an accurate – within five to 10 minutes – time frame of when they will be seen by a clinician.”

The Medical Walk-In Unit is the first department to test the predictive wait-time technology. Patients are given small electronic tags upon check-in. The system then uses a series of radio receivers inside the clinic to track the tags with the patients. This information is used to predict patient wait time, which is displayed on multiple languages on screens in the waiting room. The ultimate goal of the system is to increase patient satisfaction.

The wait-time system is the brainchild of Stahl and Mark Drew, a research and development engineer and industrial designer at the Institute for Technology Assessment. In the future, Drew says, they hope to add additional features to the system, such as the ability for patients to check wait-time online.

“The patients are going to love it,” says Drew. “The length of the wait is a question that’s always being asked. Our system is making a very accurate guess, based on detailed data. And we took great care to make the screens highly readable and accessible. We went through a lot of iterations to get here and the software is constantly improving.”

Adds Stahl, “From a managerial perspective, this is a very direct return on investment. The pilot program is part of a larger project looking at how we can use real-time location systems to deliver health care more effectively.” 

Read more articles from the 08/30/13 Hotline issue.

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