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What Is a Virtual Waiting Room?

Carlos Soto

Virtual waiting rooms offer safe ways for patients to check in for appointments, similar to a doctor's office.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a boom in telemedicine and the emergence of new telehealth technologies. According to Grand View Research, telehealth market share growth will reach $298.9 billion by 2028. 

Offering healthcare to patients in a digital environment gained popularity as a way to reduce COVID-19's spread, but telehealth technology is likely to continue growing beyond the pandemic. The healthcare industry has embraced a more substantial telemedicine presence; remote services are easy for patients to use while empowering healthcare professionals to communicate and diagnose medical issues without seeing patients in a traditional, in-person setting.

One of the ways telemedicine is changing healthcare is by introducing virtual waiting rooms, which allow patients to check in for appointments, complete paperwork and receive instructions virtually. Here's a look at virtual waiting room technology and what healthcare providers and clinicians need to know about implementing a virtual waiting room.  

What is a virtual waiting room?

Virtual waiting rooms allow patients to check in for virtual appointments; they mimic the experience of meeting with an office staff member when patients go to their doctor's office. While virtual waiting rooms are an ideal resource while a patient is waiting for a virtual medical appointment, they are also a way for patients to receive instructions and safety protocols ahead of an in-person visit.

Virtual waiting rooms reduce the time patients spend inside medical offices, minimizing the chances of infecting others – or being infected – with COVID-19. Beyond safety concerns, virtual waiting rooms are an excellent telehealth visit resource that guides the registration process and notifies patients when providers are ready to initiate the visit.

Many medical settings are deploying virtual waiting rooms, including traditional doctors' offices that need a way for patients to check in, as well as emergency rooms and urgent care centers, which use virtual waiting rooms to allow patients to wait in their cars until a provider is ready to see them.

How do virtual waiting rooms work?

According to the data from Grand View Research, virtual waiting rooms are part of a more comprehensive telemedical solution. Real-time telemedicine occurs when there's contact between the patient and healthcare practitioner using digital media such as video conferencing

This level of medical care – also called synchronous telemedicine – entails several applications working in tandem to offer a straightforward telephonic conversation capable of treating patients and performing complex procedures and analyses.

Telemedicine vendor Relatient says virtual waiting rooms – also called curbside check-in, mobile waiting rooms or zero-contact waiting rooms – are a "sustainable strategy" for replacing the waiting room experience for both telehealth and in-office patients. 

Components of a virtual waiting room

 Well-built virtual waiting rooms require these elements:

  • A welcome message
  • Clear steps the patient must follow in order to see the provider (either in person or virtually)
  • A method to contact staff for help with communication or navigation issues
  • A way to check in from mobile devices
  • The ability for patients to check their cameras and microphones

According to telehealth solution company Providertech, there are various ways to implement a virtual waiting room solution using HIPAA-compliant texting and chatbots to facilitate the remote check-in process.

Ahead of the appointment, the provider will often text a link to patients inviting them to join the virtual waiting room. After they click on the link and complete the required digital forms, patients will move to a virtual queue. The system will alert them when the provider is ready to see them.

Did you know?Did you know? Many states require private insurers to cover telehealth consultations the same way they would cover in-person services, which is helpful to your patients if you start a telehealth business.

Pros of virtual waiting rooms

Virtual waiting rooms provide a host of benefits to medical providers and patients aside from the obvious upside of contactless patient registration to decrease the chance of COVID-19 infections. Here are some more virtual waiting room benefits, according to Providertech data. 

1. They offer a patient-friendly experience in a comfortable environment.

In-person waiting rooms are often full of sick people with runny noses and coughs; there may be crying children and other distractions as well. Virtual environments remove these risks and stressors. 

Patients waiting to be seen for a virtual appointment benefit from peace and quiet in an environment that isn't overwhelming and stressful. If the doctor or clinician is running late, the wait doesn't feel as long.

Using a virtual waiting room ahead of an in-person appointment also has benefits. It allows patients to remain in their homes or vehicles, where they can control the temperature and noise levels. As they wait, they can read, make calls, work on a laptop, surf the web or do anything they'd like to pass the time. The virtual queue keeps them updated on their wait time so they're never left wondering how much longer they'll need to wait.

The process of filling out required paperwork and payment information for accurate medical billing is more calm and pleasant from the comfort of patients' homes or vehicles, leaving patients with stress-free and more positive staff interactions when they deal with their healthcare providers. 

2. Virtual waiting rooms facilitate privacy and security.

The traditional waiting room area is sorely lacking in privacy, particularly when patients fill out sensitive paperwork or registration forms. Providertech points out that virtual waiting rooms eliminate privacy concerns because these systems use HIPAA-compliant technology that allows healthcare providers to securely gather the necessary information on health conditions.

Virtual waiting rooms typically are easy to enter, as patients don't have to log in to an account with a password. Instead, they'll confirm their identity via the virtual waiting room's two-factor authentication system linked to their phone number. 

TipTip: To ensure HIPAA compliance with telemedicine offerings, ask any third-party service you use how it secures data both in transmission and storage.

3. Automation saves time and money.

Virtual waiting rooms allow for streamlined automation of everything from appointment reminders to patient check-in. By automating routine tasks, medical office staff can focus on more important work. 

Providertech also points out that virtual waiting rooms incorporate text messaging with customizable templates to issue appointment reminders, confirmations and more. This feature speeds up the registration process and effortlessly syncs patient data in their medical records. If patients need help, these texts can incorporate a help function that triggers a phone call from the medical office staff. 

Cons of virtual waiting rooms

While virtual waiting rooms offer a host of conveniences and benefits, they're not without their challenges. Here are some downsides of virtual waiting rooms. 

1. Virtual waiting rooms lack contingency plans.

Virtual settings sometimes lack contingency plans if healthcare providers or patients experience personal emergencies. According to telemedicine booking system Yocale, unforeseen issues could arise with the appointment, with office staff needing to contact patients manually to inform them of delays. This element could raise new problems instead of solving current ones.

2. Virtual waiting rooms have limited functionality.

Yocale points out that virtual waiting rooms have limited capabilities, so there may be delays linking prescriptions to a patient's record. In a virtual setting, depending on the solution and software you're using, it can be less effective to ask the important and unique questions providers and healthcare clinics want to ask in advance.

3. here can be system errors and internet connection issues.

Virtual waiting room experiences may frustrate patients, who may find technology challenging and inconvenient. Yocale's research shows nuances in digital software and applications that can lead to glitches and system errors that may confuse and frustrate patients. Also, for virtual waiting rooms to work, patients need a strong internet connection with adequate speeds, and providers need business broadband.

Virtual waiting rooms serve the public and healthcare providers

The pandemic has ignited the telemedicine industry and new telehealth technologies. Virtual waiting rooms serve the public with vital functions. Healthcare providers and clinicians should partner with the best telemedicine software providers so they can continue strengthening their systems and providing a consistent, convenient and accessible experience.

Image Credit: Henfaes / Getty Images
Carlos Soto Contributing Writer
After an award winning career as a technology writer with the Washington Post Company, Carlos received his MBA from Rice University and graduated from the prestigious Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Executive Leadership Program, as Vice President within Global Technology and Operations. Throughout his executive career, Carlos has led initiatives geared towards integrating customer facing and employee facing technology solutions within finance, oil and gas and the high tech sectors.