By Kevin Grauman, CEO, QLess
With everything going on in the world today, I was recently thinking about what scarcity looks like. And the image that kept coming to my mind were bread lines in the Soviet Union. Think about it: there is no image as indelible as a long queue of tired, defeated looking Russians standing in the snow for hours with the faint hope of getting something to eat. Not only are lines inefficient, but they are a monument to human suffering. They quite literally kill time.
Most of us wait in lines every day—at the grocery store, at the local lunch place, at the post office and at the DMV. And even though most doctors and hospitals are nice enough to provide chairs and couches, the time we spend in their waiting rooms is pretty much a nicer version of a line. Lines are a part of our lives.
Or rather, they were.
Welcome to the COVID era. I sometimes talk about “post-COVID,” but the reality is that until there are a few billion doses of a reliable vaccine, we are still living in a world defined by the pandemic. There is no “post” about it. And in this new world, making people wait in line is the height of corporate irresponsibility. It’s why in-store retail is being supplanted by deliveries and curbside pickup. It’s why state agencies are allowing more and more administrative work to be done online. And it’s why hospitals—the epicenter of the COVID crisis—are moving to line-free options for their patients.
For starters, the number one mandate of hospitals is to keep people healthy. It’s literally why they exist. And while the risk of catching a communicable disease (like MRSA) has always been a risk, COVID has elevated the issue to a new level. Want proof? Hospitals are telling people not to come in if they think they could have the novel coronavirus. Think about that: hospitals are so scared of the devastation that an outbreak could create that they are refusing to treat sick people. With that being the “new normal” (a term I dislike almost as much as “post-COVID”), the idea of anyone waiting in a line or a lobby is just not going to fly.
Then there’s the convenience factor. Even before COVID upended healthcare systems, some states saw average wait times of three to four hours. That’s absolutely outrageous—and it’s a major reason why so many patients report dissatisfaction with their medical providers. That’s a real shame, because people are leaving bad online reviews and negative comments on social media not because their doctors are bad, but because the patient experience is so negative. Making people wait hours for care is disrespectful of their time—and in most cases it’s completely unnecessary.
So, how can hospitals even exist without lines and crowded waiting rooms? The answer is very easily. And even more importantly, it’s not just that they can do it: they should be doing it. It’s not a luxury anymore. It’s a necessity to protect public health and save lives the same way that social distancing and curbside pickup are helping to flatten the pandemic curve.
This is where technology comes into play. One of the long-tail repercussions of COVID is that technologies that were at the fringes on March 1, 2020 are going to be the norm from now on. This includes everything from hands-free payment options to touchless elevators in high-rise buildings. These are technologies that have existed for a while, but have now migrated from “nice to have” to “need to have.”
This is where line-management platforms are having their finest hour. Locations from restaurants to deli counters and airports have tried to mitigate lines in the past, but that was more about preventing anarchy. Today it’s about keeping the body count down. The old “take a number” approach just doesn’t work anymore, because while they improve order, they don’t enforce physical distancing. If you’ve ever waited in the foyer of a Cheesecake Factory for your magical puck to vibrate, you know exactly what I mean.
The good news is that sophisticated line-management tools—really line replacement tools—have been around for a while. There are a number of ways that they work, but the big picture is that they let people start to wait for services long before they show up at a physical location. This includes hospitals, urgent care centers and clinics. In terms we can all relate to, people get to spend the first 3.5 hours of their four hour wait at home rather than packed like sardines with people who may make them very, very ill.
Hospitals have a lot to deal with right now, from immediate safety concerns to billing, to keeping staff members safe. And even though there is no single way to fix all of the problems that they face today, eliminating lines can play a major role in ensuring patient—and staff—safety while also improving the patient experience.
Kevin Grauman is CEO of QLess, a pioneer in virtual lines and digital crowd management. He was named as one of the 100 Superstars of HR Outsourcing in the USA by HRO Today magazine and is also the recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.
This post has been sponsored by VerbFactory
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