As digital healthcare continues to gain acceptance and regulatory support, clinical laboratories will need to help patients provide biological samples for virtual doctor visits

Patterns are emerging in healthcare that will likely impact clinical laboratories now and into the future. Trends in telehealth and mobile health (mHealth) that were just beginning to develop before the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated with the outbreak, and many are predicted to remain once the pandemic is over, reported Healthcare Business and Technology.

Now comes virtual waiting rooms to go along with virtual doctor’s visits. One example is Banner Health of Phoenix, Arizona. The non-profit has more than 50,000 employees in Ariz. and is the state’s largest employer. It operates 28 hospitals and multiple specialty clinics in six states, making it one of the largest health systems in the US as well.

Banner Health is working with LifeLink to deploy virtual waiting rooms in all of its 300 clinics.

What is a Virtual Waiting Room?

The Banner Health System includes 1,500 physicians who work in 300 clinics. More than one million patients in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, and Wyoming are part of the system.

In the not too distant past, when patients visited Banner Health providers and received doctor’s orders for diagnostic tests, they then went to clinical laboratories or the lab’s patient service centers to provide a biological specimen for testing.

Now, because of COVID-19, patients at Banner Health clinics access virtual waiting rooms through a mobile device or computer. They check in virtually for video visits and may not visit a doctor’s office or medical facility at all. Instead, they engage their healthcare provider through a telehealth connection.

The introduction of the virtual waiting rooms is Banner Health’s response to the need for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virtual waiting rooms employ LifeLink chatbots, which interact with patients in a conversational way, and are available for both telehealth and in-person appointments. The chatbots can:

  • provide appointment reminders,
  • guide patients through completing necessary paperwork,
  • provide instructions on using telehealth technology,
  • check patients in for appointments, and
  • direct patients to an exam room for in-person doctor visits.

Banner Health used similar technology for patients visiting their emergency departments.

“The traditional patient experience of walking into an office, filling out paper forms, reading instructions and then waiting for an exam room had to change. LifeLink chatbots have already helped hundreds of thousands of Banner patients navigate emergency room visits, so the concept of digitizing regular doctor appointment visits with a mobile, virtual waiting room chatbot assistant was a natural extension of the technology,” said Jeff Johnson, JD, Vice President of Innovation and Digital Business at Banner Health, in a press release. (Photo copyright: Healthcare IT News.)

Both Patients and Healthcare Providers Need to Adapt

“The COVID-19 pandemic requires an entirely different level of thinking when it comes to providing routine patient services,” said Greg Johnsen, CEO at LifeLink, in the Banner Health press release. “Like the changes we are seeing in retail, healthcare providers need to adapt, and the waiting room experience is one area that will need to change. We take great pride in knowing that LifeLink chatbots are providing peace of mind and convenience for patients that need to see their doctors.”

A significant innovation is that patients can easily engage with the chatbots through a “one-click authentication process and then interact through a standard web browser,” rather than requiring them to download and install a mobile device app, Healthcare IT News reported.

“One of the key benefits of this chatbot technology is the ease of use,” said Banner Health’s Jeff Johnson in the press release. “Interactions that use natural language eliminate the need for user training, and there are no apps or passwords required so it’s simple for patients to interact with us securely, on any device. We have seen high engagement rates as a result.”

One thing seems certain, as COVID-19 causes increased anxiety over social distancing, it is likely that virtual healthcare, telehealth, and digital pathology will continue to be developed in the medical industry.

This has implications for clinical laboratories, because if patients are being scheduled virtually, it is just a small additional step to have the doctor see them virtually via telehealth. In such circumstances, medical laboratories will need to have a way for the patient to provide a specimen for lab testing.

—Dava Stewart          

Related Information:

Banner Health Launches Virtual Waiting Rooms for Telehealth and In-Person Doctor Appointments

Banner Health Innovates with LifeLink Chatbots to Enable Virtual Waiting Rooms for Telehealth and In-Person Appointments

Health Care Isn’t Going Back to Normal After Pandemic

Chatbots are the Future of Healthcare. Here’s why.

Improving the Medicare Patient Experience with Conversational Mobile Technology — The Breakthrough at Banner Health

Mobile Chatbot Tech Improves ER Patient Experience at Banner Health