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App shortens time in waiting rooms

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CHARLOTTETOWN—A Charlottetown walk-in clinic is taking part in an innovative pilot project that dramatically could shorten the time Canadians spend in doctors’ waiting rooms.

The clinic is testing a new online booking tool that uses just-in-time messaging, with initial results showing 90 percent of waits below 30 minutes.

The app, called Skip the Waiting Room, allows patients to book their own appointments, but it also sends a text message or phone call to let users know when they should come in.

That key function helps avoid the long waits that happen when appointments get backed up.

P.E.I. software developer Mark Richardson came up with the idea in 2013 after he spent more than four hours waiting for medical attention at an P.E.I. walk-in clinic when the doctor was late.

“Sitting in a waiting room is a commonly understood pain among Canadians,” noted Richardson, an IT expert who, after 15 years, quit his provincial government job in 2014 to work on the application.

“We can’t eliminate the wait but we can reduce how much time you spend in the waiting room,” he remarked.

With $65,000 in provincial funding, Richardson now is monitoring the one-year pilot project at the Downtown Walk-in Clinic.

Patients who show up at the clinic are given priority, based on the idea that people without access to a computer or smartphone should not be penalized when seeking care.

Online appointments can be registered as early as 7 a.m., and those slots typically are reserved for late in the morning or late in the afternoon to allow enough time for walk-in clients.

During the day, a quick check of the website tells users how many walk-in or online slots are available.

If the walk-in patient load is light, online patients will get a text or phone message telling them to come in early.

The ability to arrange appointments online isn’t new, but the just-in-time approach appears to be a step forward, said Dr. Manoj Vohra, a physician based in Bible Hill, N.S.

“That’s exciting,” said Vohra, who started using an online booking system when he opened a walk-in clinic in July.

“A patient-focused approach is where health care has to go.”

Vohra said his online service is part of the HealthConnex records management system developed in Nova Scotia.

He noted patients have responded well to the program, which he has helped to make more user-friendly.

So far, about 500 people have used the online features offered by the Charlottetown walk-in clinic, and each of them was asked to complete a brief online survey.

“People are giving us feedback, [saying] they’re able to stay at home with their family, or stay at work and miss less work, and still see a doctor,” Richardson said in an interview.

The pilot project is expected to wrap up in August.

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