Over the last 9 months, I have witnessed the demise of several waiting rooms in GP Surgeries around the Country. Where patients once sat waiting, sometimes for hours, now lie empty, or they’ve been repurposed to accommodate additional treatment rooms or office space.
For some people, a visit to their GP was sometimes a social outing, a place where they might bump into friends or neighbours. For others, waiting rooms would induce all sorts of anxiety as they waited to see their GP or Practice Nurse.
Throughout my many years working in General Practice, I witnessed many changes to the GP Waiting room. It used to be a hive of activity with lots of animated conversations and sounds of children playing. In more recent years, most people kept their heads down engrossed in their mobile phones and avoiding eye contact with those around them.
The only sound would be a radio in the backgound to mask the conversations taking place by phone or at Reception.
In some of the bigger Practices where I provide services, they were beginning to allow 2 to 3 patients to sit in the Waiting Room at any one time. This would be a space that would normally accommodate up to 30 patients. This will have now changed again with the Level 5 restrictions imposed for January 2021.
In one Practice, Patients sat in their cars and awaited a call from Reception. In another, Patients were given a buzzer while waiting in their cars. The buzzer vibrated when the GP or Nurse was ready to see them. Every Practice has its own way of managing things.
There are many funny stories of patients who expectantly get out of their cars when the Receptionist or Doctor went out to the carpark to call their next patient in. Welcome to the Carpark waiting room!
Several months ago, in the earlier stages of the Pandemic, I was sitting lost in thought in the carpark of my own GP surgery while waiting for my appointment. The receptionist said she would call me, but instead, I heard a gentle tap on my car window.
I turned to see that it was my GP, totally unrecognisable and dressed from head to toe in full PPE. He told me that he used the opportunity whenever possible to get some fresh air between consultations.
There is now a new normal and most GP Practices have successfully adapted and continue to adapt to the constantly evolving changes. Other practices are struggling a little and possibly overcompensating. As a result of this, some GPs are finding that some things are taking twice as long.
What is really evident to me is a new sense of calm in Practices that I work with even if it’s just on the surface. Prior to March 2020, there were patients standing out in hallways with full waiting rooms and patients presenting at Reception with multiple queries. Now every transaction has a protocol for how various transactions should be managed, for the safety of Doctors, staff, and patients.
At one practice, I worked in, Patients were instructed to ring the doorbell at their allocated appointment time. The GP or Receptionist let them in when free to see them. They were then invited to hand sanitize and brought directly into the GPs room. Following the consultation, they were escorted to Reception if paying, or directly to the exit door if there were no further transactions.
During the few hours that I was there, the phone was mostly busy and there was a steady stream of patients. All the while, there was a real sense of being in control. The waiting room which had previously been full with patients was now converted to a treatment room. I have seen this happen in several Practices where they are now making excellent use of this space.
The GP was mainly doing phone consults and bringing patients into the Practice only when necessary. They found that the phone consultation was taking up a lot of time and there was a sense that patients didn’t value the GPs time as much. The GP also spent a lot of extra time safety netting.
This GP along with many others finds it difficult to charge patients for phone consultations, despite the fact that they are giving the same qualified advice and expertise.
In order to get more structure into the day, the Practice is developing more protocols around phone triaging. They are also in the process of getting a webcam so that they can offer video consultations where appropriate. Instead of a physical waiting room, patients will instead wait in a virtual waiting room.
Currently, many phone consultations are converting into face to face which is taking up to double the amount of time. This is something that I have witnessed in many Practices and there are many consultations that are appropriate for video consults and perhaps more GPs should consider exploring the possibilities.
I have asked several friends and acquaintances about their view of GP waiting rooms. Most said that they would be more than happy to see the back of them. I think there is a balance and that maybe now we have the opportunity to consider alternatives. There are many examples of waiting rooms being put to better use and do we really want to go back to the madness of the past?
The question is whether this is in fact the slow demise of the GP Waiting room and perhaps a renewed appreciation for the value of the family GP.
Asumpta Gallagher is a Business Consultant and Staff trainer with over 20 years experience specialising in General Practice. She helps GPs in many different ways including Strategy, Clarity on the vision for the Practice, Practice Management, HR, and Staff Training. Asumpta understands the unique challenges that are involved in running a patient-centered business. To find out how Asumpta could support you in your Practice, you can book a free discovery call by clicking HERE