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For better healthcare, begin with appointment system

Patient complaints, particularly at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu, have been mostly about long waiting time. Because of the resulting stress on the patients, health services of all manners that the hospital provides are often and, quite naturally, looked upon as wanting in quality.

The initiative that the hospital took, albeit wobblingly, to reduce waiting times by introducing appointment system, is paying off. Even as some sort of issue-specific studies might have to be conducted to give us the real picture of change, general observation has been that frustrations in the queue have been drastically reduced.

This is good, a change that has been long time coming.

Royal Audit Authority last year found that the average waiting time for patients at the hospital’s outpatient department (OPD) was 1 hour 38 minutes and about 45 minutes at general OPD. Unorganised queues and long waiting time at a health centre is a miserable experience because one is not there standing in line for coffee. Mismanagement of queues adds to the stress and pain of the patients.

Appointment system so is the most logical solution. Long wait time could be a problem with health centres everywhere, but increasing OPD chambers and doctors are not the only ways to improve service delivery. With appointment system in place, one can register in advance and come to consult a doctor at an agreed time.  The advantage of the system on either side is that the doctors are not overburdened and patients do not have to stand in the queue unnecessarily for long hours.

The appointment system at the hospital currently gives about 10-minute consultation time for each patient. If appointments are adhered to strictly, a doctor will be able to see 40 patients in a day. However, is a 10-minute time enough? But then, it is still better than average consultation time elsewhere. What this tells us is that there is room for makeover. A visit to hospital, for instance, could be made more streamlined and personal.

If healthcare in our hospitals should be low patient volume and high quality care, such makeovers are welcome. They should be replicated in all departments of all the health centres in the country.

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