It’s no secret that the longer a patient waits to be seen, the more likely their dissatisfaction for the experience climbs.
Patient wait time is an ongoing focal point in discussions surrounding healthcare efficiency. Ambulatory to acute, patients have grown accustomed to their dreaded wait time, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to endure. Whether it’s needing to schedule appointments weeks or months ahead of time or sitting in the waiting room, it’s no secret that the longer a patient waits to be seen, the more likely their dissatisfaction for the experience climbs.
However, there is an often-overlooked counterpart: patient alone time. As demands for instant access become more mainstream throughout the patient experience, alone time is taking over as the new KPI to track, and its emergence is influencing how healthcare providers approach the delivery of care.
What is the difference in the clinic between patient wait and alone time?
Wait time is time patients spend in a waiting room.
Alone time is time patients spend in care areas without a caregiver present.
Why is patient alone time an important metric to measure?
Patients consider every aspect of their experience in their satisfaction, and even a fraction of time where patients wait alone could be a make-or-break factor. What message do you think it sends to patients? Consider how alone time impacts the following:
Patient Experience and Satisfaction: Patients, especially in vulnerable situations, may feel anxious, isolated or uncertain when left alone for extended periods. Their emotional state can be jeopardized, and it’s important for caregivers to be mindful of the healthcare experience. Tracking alone time allows caregivers to identify instances where patients may be experiencing discomfort, contributing to a more patient-centered approach.
Patient Engagement and Communication: Monitoring alone time offers a window into the effectiveness of interactions between caregivers and patients. This allows health leaders to identify areas for improvement in their cross-communication, ensuring that patients feel informed and supported throughout their healthcare journey.
Quality of Care: Patient alone time can affect the perceived quality of care. When patients feel attended to and supported, their perception of the care they receive is likely to be more positive. On the other side, with too much alone time, patients may feel their care is lacking. Tracking alone time helps caregivers identify and address any gaps in the experience, enhancing the overall quality of care.
Operational Efficiency and Resource Allocation: Understanding patterns of alone time helps optimize resource allocation and workflow management. This enables healthcare facilities to identify peak times and areas where additional staff or process improvements may be needed. The insights derived from tracking alone time improve operational efficiency and contribute to a more streamlined and patient-focused healthcare environment.
How can you measure patient alone time?
The tricky part about alone time is that it’s impossible to track without the right technology. To reduce the amount of patient alone time, consider modernizing the experience with insightful and accurate information fueled by real-time locating system (RTLS) technology.
An RTLS uses location information to automatically identify movements in your facility in real time. Staff and patients wear RTLS badges that emit signals, read by sensors placed throughout the facility. A server processes the signals and turns them into location data, displayed on a digital white board for care teams. This location data is a real-time, clear-picture view of your entire operations.
Visual cues with timestamps indicate to staff which patient may be waiting for the next step in their visit (e.g., the provider, labs, imaging or treatment) and for how long. This may seem simple, but the increased visibility that comes from the accurate, timely RTLS data empowers staff to stay on top of patient alone time and cues staff to keep a visit progressing when possible.
How can insights derived from RTLS data address alone time?
Clinics: Outpatient care is the backbone of a healthy patient population. With a shift to valued-based medicine, outpatient visits are growing exponentially, doubling the rest of the healthcare continuum combined.1 However, clinics are having a hard time juggling the increased care needs with the staff and resources they have. With a look inside your clinical workflow through automated RTLS data, this is where you identify non-value-add time, specifically patient alone time, that is keeping a visit from progressing and affecting the experience. When you identify those bottlenecks through the RTLS data, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions that can positively impact scheduling and how patients move through the clinic. Providers have the potential to see more patients per day, without sacrificing quality face-to-face time.
Oncology: Cancer care is very delicate, and it’s especially important in these settings to optimize a patient’s experience by making them feel comfortable while in a sensitive state. Although alone time is expected during treatment—oncology patients are often sitting in an infusion chair for hours—that doesn’t mean caregiver engagement should stop. Most oncology centers require checking on the patient every 30-45 minutes, but this can be difficult to stay on top of during busy routines. RTLS technology can help by providing visual cues of alone time on automated, digital whiteboards, so the attending nurse can proactively engage with patients, making a big impact on the patient experience.
Acute: In acute care, especially for patients with certain conditions or who are at risk of falling, extended alone time may pose safety concerns. In critical care or post-surgery recovery settings, timely responses to changes in a patient's condition are crucial. Monitoring alone time allows for more informed rounding routines and timely patient care that contribute to overall patient well-being and experience.
What should health systems do next?
Patient flow solutions, powered by RTLS technology, offer a dynamic approach to measure and mitigate patient alone time. Fueling care teams with real-time information about a patient’s visit, RTLS helps ensure timely and proactive patient engagement, contributing to a more patient-centered and efficient healthcare environment. Embracing RTLS is more than a technological upgrade; it's a strategic investment in elevating patient care, staff productivity and operational excellence across the entire healthcare continuum.
1. NCHS, National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 2019. US Census.
Allen Foucht, BSN, RN, CLSSBM, is Senior Customer Success Coaching and Education Manager at Midmark RTLS