Healthcare Technology Can Solve Long Queues At the Hospital
By Dr George Kanani
It might be you - If it is not you, there must be one of your close relatives or friends who has been a victim of long queues at a hospital.
But I am certain that we have all experienced this in Tanzania. People are always complaining of long queues at the health facilities, frequent missing of their appointments with doctors. Worse still, there is a lot of time wasted due to poor queue arrangement, someone getting in first while they found you queuing and so on.
I happened to witness this one patient who arrived at one of the referral hospitals (name withheld) around 05:30 a.m. She came for her monthly clinic. On that day, she wasn't attended until 15:30 p.m. when she decided to furiously complain to a nurse who was calling in patients to be seen by doctors.
It was very sad when she came to realize that she had actually visited the clinic on a "wrong day". If the hospital had a queue and a proper appointment system, this disturbance could probably have been avoided.
Queue and appointment systems are electronic systems in healthcare facilities especially the Outpatient Departments (OPD) that help in managing queues of patients and appointments smoothly. Some of these systems are web-based and others are not.
There are also other systems that have additional features like audio-visual calling systems of patients, reminder text messages that keep on reminding the patient on their appointment day and time estimates for the next consultation.
It is unfortunate that Queue and Appointment System (QAS) in health care facilities in Tanzania is not common like in other industries, banking especially. In some banks, branches have already installed these systems and are already in use.[irp]
I find it very pleasing for hospitals to begin applying these queue and appointment systems. These electronic systems when installed and applied in our healthcare facilities, studies show they greatly improve quality of care and increase patients' satisfactions.
Yes, the queue and appointment system reduces the waiting time compared to the ordinary queuing system. QAS creates a systematic order that a patient should be attended by a given doctor who is available.
This observes the rule of first in-first served. This, to a large extent reduces overlap and unnecessary favour to patients on the queue.
The system is very good at arranging patients' appointments. The system is able to analyze the specialist's schedule and give an exact appointment time for doctor consultation. The QAS can send you a text message a day or hours before, reminding you of your appointment with the doctor or specialist. It is able to continuously update you on time estimates or how many patients remained before being attended by the doctor.
Furthermore, queue and appointment system can be coupled with audio-visual systems that give room for hospitals to make their respective announcements or advertisements.
Short announcements on the availability of new services, new specialists and any other information of use for the betterment of the hospital can be made. This serves as a marketing tool of your facility.
QAS proves useful at times of cancellation of appointment by the health consultants. This system can be used to alert patients about the cancellation of their consultation to a given doctor.
This gives relief to the patient as they can continue with their daily routine. And this is different from the existing arrangement where you get to know that your doctor has cancelled the consultation after spending hours waiting.[irp]
To hospital managers, the Queue and Appointment System allows them to easily recognize and manage maximum number of clients seen by a given consultant.
With all those good stuff the QAS has, there are some limitations and challenge to the system. This innovation requires time and training for it to be more effective. Not all hospital staff are inclined to changes, some of them are likely to spoil the system to protect their reputation. In areas where there is no electricity and there is higher illiteracy rate, the efficacy of the system to deliver the intended goals remains questionable. Hospital managers need to be watchful and considerate of many factors before adapting the system.
For quality healthcare in our healthcare system, innovations like these cannot be avoided. All it takes is to be ready for these changes on the way to providing quality healthcare services.