Making WAIT a little tolerable.

by Karthi

This post is about making waiting time at hospitals more tolerable, a simple solution is to display the current token number and the average time to examine the patient. These two information will help others who are in the waiting queue.

“…of all the hardships a person had to face none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting.”
― Khaled HosseiniA Thousand Splendid Suns

No one likes to spend time waiting, but it is inevitable, especially at places like hospitals, reservation counters etc.  It makes sense to make this waiting time more tolerable for people.  Business entities that take extra step to make this,  will retain their customers, while others will loose them.

There will be significant waiting time at hospitals due to limited resources, process to followed and type of diagnosis.  The first thing to reduce is the waiting time to analyze the workflow for bottlenecks and delays and those factors should be addressed.

The workflow should be analyzed to remove any kind of bottlenecks and delays that will increase the patient’s waiting time.

In recent twitter discussion, I shared my opinion about how to make waiting much more tolerable, by giving the necessary feedback to people who wait.  This blog post is an extension of that with some relevant topics.

Imagine waiting without any idea on how long it’s going to take, will you be comfortable with it? I bet not.  What if  download dialog window on your computer came without progress bar and an estimated time, how would you react to it?  This uneasiness that comes during the wait time is explained in the ‘Doorbell Effect’ (by Tom Kelly). When you ring the doorbell, there is this uneasy duration before which your call is either answered or not, during which you may try to ring again, take a peek inside, knock the door or simply walk back.  People undergo similar uneasiness when they are made to wait.

The doorbell incident is found at all places where one has to wait.  Some address this uneasiness experienced by the customer by making his wait time a little more predictable and enjoyable.

Coming back to hospital scenario, few of the hospitals do display the patient’s token number that is being serviced, but majority don’t. When this information is not available, there is confusion on how long one has to wait, and the major concern is that people don’t know who should go after whom. Having token number displayed fixes this issue, but there is some improvement that we can make.

In addition to the token number, it will be beneficial if the average time that a doctor takes to attend patient is also displayed along with the current token number. With these two piece of information, patients can now make a more accurate estimate for the amount of time that they have to wait. Knowing this information reduces the stress and allows the patients and those who are with them to plan to other activity during this interval. The average time can be constantly updated after each patient’s visit, there by making it more accurate.

At hospitals, it is good to have average patient time + token number displayed.

In addition to the above information, hospitals should also provide a means of distraction to people who are in the waiting queue.

John Maeda in his book ‘The Laws of Simplicty’ also talks about the issue of waiting, the third law ‘Saving in time, feels like simplicity’. The whole idea here is to reduce the total waiting time and make it more tolerable.

Typically hospitals start out to make the wait tolerable by providing newspapers, magazines and television to the patients who are waiting. What is generally observed is that they don’t stock new magazines and have television on mute,  due which television don’t serve the intended purpose.

In brief, waiting at the hospitals can be made more tolerable by

  • Showing the token number
  • Showing the average waiting time
  • Stocking latest reading materials
  • Any other meaningful distractions

Further reading:

  1. The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelly
  2. The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda
  3. Patrick & Puterman. Reducing Wait Times through Operations Research: Optimizing the Use of Surge Capacity.
  4. Study on Outpatients’ Waiting Time in Hospital.
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