January 12, 2001

Pagers benefit waiting patients

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Focused on recovery, Jeremy Johnson peddles through pain during a physical therapy session. His faith-based decision to not receive blood transfusions has made his journey longer, but Johnson hasn’t lost his drive. (Photo by Dana Johnson)

Pagers benefit waiting patients

Vanderbilt Medical Center clinics may soon be offering an alternative to long waits often associated with a doctor’s office visit.

Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital Outpatient Clinic is piloting a new program that gives patients and their families an opportunity to check out a pager, allowing them to leave the clinic until they are ready to be seen.

Much like systems used across the nation in restaurants, the pilot program incorporates 20 pagers – two with directions for Spanish-speaking families.

Pagers are given to patients or families who are expected to have a long wait, often associated with waiting for test results or an appointment which has been delayed due to a physician emergency.

The pilot program will last just over a month and, if successful, will be offered at all Vanderbilt Medical group clinics on campus.

“We’ve been researching this for over a year and we’ve implemented a pilot program to test various pagers and see how the system works,” said Greg Catt, administrative director of the Children’s Hospital Outpatient Clinics. “This has been great for families. They can go get something to eat, visit the Family Resource Center or do a number of things which will be better than just sitting in the waiting room.”

The Family Resource Center is located in Medical Center East and offers information to the families and friends of children with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Families can get information on their child’s condition or research a related topic. Barbara Ramsey, director of the center, said the new paging system gives families more options on how to spend their time.

“We hope it will help reduce some of the anxiety and tensions that frequently build up in waiting areas,” Ramsey said. “Families are very excited about this program.”

Catt said long waits occur for a variety of reasons including some that clinic personnel can’t control.

“Sometimes the doctor is delayed in surgery and we don’t know when the doctor will be available,” he explained. “Or the patient has to have a variety of tests performed and they have to wait for the results. The patients feel like if they leave the waiting room area, they will miss their appointment or vital information. With the pagers, they can have peace of mind that the clinic staff can always be in contact with them.”

Patients and their families are able to go virtually anywhere on the Vanderbilt campus, as well as restaurants within the Vanderbilt area. When the pager goes off, they are instructed to return to their clinic for the appointment or pick up their test results. Catt said they have recommended that patients be able to return to the clinic within 10 minutes of being paged.

There will be no cost to patients to use the pager, however they will have to sign the pagers out and be responsible for their loss or damage.

The Children’s Hospital Outpatient Clinic opened at its current location (Medical Center East) in 1995 and had 52,000 visits that year. That number jumped to over 80,000 patient visits this year.

“With the large number of patients coming here, we are trying to be proactive and have increased patient satisfaction,” Catt said. “We can’t control the delays, but we can try and work with the patients to make the delays more productive.”

The pediatric pager program is being watched closely by other clinics, said Wendy Pitts, Vanderbilt Medical Group systems project manager.

“We are really excited to see how this works,” she said. “To eliminate the need for the restrictions of the waiting room would be great for the patient.”

Pitts said many patients have to travel a long distance for their appointments and arrive hours before their scheduled appointment. With the pager system in place, they can check in, pick up a pager, and then be notified if the doctor can see them before their scheduled appointment.

“This is a unique program,” Pitts said. “We’re looking forward to seeing how the pilot program works in the Children’s Outpatient Clinics so we can implement them in all of our clinics.”