Waitwhile unlocks agility and flexibility for Island Health
“Our main mission is to ensure the delivery of the best care possible to our population, without barriers, anytime someone has a need,” said Graham Payette, Executive Director Innovation and Architecture at Island Health.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, a number of mandates were put in place by Canada’s public health officials to minimize the spread of COVID-19. These included the social distancing guidelines, screening, and mask protocols that became so common over the past years.
With the arrival of the virus and Canada’s response, Payette’s role quickly changed. Previously he had been focussed on innovation, but his role switched to building the necessary support systems that would ensure public safety and alignment with government mandates. Some pandemic-related service changes were relatively simple to enact, like enabling telehealth appointments so patients could get care without having to go into the doctor’s office.
But the social distancing issue proved a more complicated problem to solve. For example, waiting rooms which could previously accommodate upwards of 40 people waiting to get lab tests now were allowed a maximum occupancy of only six people. Meanwhile, demand for Island Health services remained at pre-pandemic levels.
Payette’s team went to work reviewing possible solutions to the waiting room challenge by exploring the marketplace for queueing and reservation system solutions. In partnership with their sister health authority, Vancouver Coastal, the team signed up for a number of different platforms and ran tests to see which would be the most effective. “Basically, Waitwhile came out as the leader, in part because it proved the most feasible for rapid implementation,” said Payette.
Working with Waitwhile to ensure privacy and security were up to standards, Island Health built a prototype and launched a trial at their outpatient laboratory services practice. Basically, they replaced a paper-based ticketing system with Waitwhile, allowing patients to text their names onto a virtual waitlist. The system made it possible for patients to wait in the safety of their cars until the lab was ready to let them inside for their tests.
The trial run proved successful, with both customers and lab workers giving positive feedback. But then something slightly unexpected happened. “In our lab, they got more into the use of Waitwhile and they looked at how they could adapt its use for some of the other workflows and patient flows that we have,” said Payette.
In addition to serving patients with one-off lab orders, Island Health labs serve select patients on a more regular basis. For instance, cancer patients who need routine blood draws to clarify which medications and which dosages they need to be on are regulary given priority status. So, Payette’s team began implementing the scheduling component of Waitwhile’s offering to help distinguish between different types of patients and offer these priority patients consistency for regular testing.
“Ultimately the scheduling function was recognized as valuable for tailoring the flow of patients through the lab irrespective of whether the patients were priority or just a general user,” said Payette. “So it was expanded across all patients and then across more than a dozen lab sites that we support in our region.”
Allow patients to wait from anywhere while staying in the know.
Allow customers to book services and automate appointment management.
Keep an open line of communication and send patients updates through SMS and email.
Reduce wait times and surfacing operational insights.
”Waitwhile has been a game changer. Being a large governmental organization, typically the implementation of new capabilities takes a long time. And we’ve been able to show, using Waitwhile, that we can make improvements quickly.”
Executive Director Innovation and Architecture, Island Health
Over a million people use Island Health services each year and user survey feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Queuing up in poor weather is no longer required and the public health risks of overcrowded waiting rooms have been dramatically reduced. In addition, online scheduling has allowed Island Health, a public institution, to provide convenience at a level previously only offered by privately-run facilities.
Additionally, under the previous system there was no way to gauge average wait times. Now, Island Health has a repository of data that’s enabled it to set service time baselines and understand their core operations with greater clarity.
Island Health is currently working on using Waitwhile and its open API in additional programs that deal with ongoing care like diabetes and rehab clinics. It is also working on integrating electronic health records into the system to reduce the workload on administrators and clerks.
Finally, Island Health plans on using Waitwhile in its emergency department. Emergency rooms are not “first come, first serve” because the severity of the patients’ conditions have so much bearing on their need for care. People suffering heart attacks will always be seen before people with sprained ankles, for example. Because of that, wait times for non-life threatening patients can stretch up to 10 hours, which is a major frustration for patients. Waitwhile has the potential to provide unprecedented transparency and alleviate that discontent.
”Waitwhile has been a game changer. It’s enabled us to think differently. Being a large governmental organization, typically the implementation of new capabilities takes a long time,” said Payette. “And we’ve been able to show, using WaitWhile, that we can make improvements quickly. We can actually be agile.”