Patients' Week 2011: Make the waiting room a digital classroom

Why is time spent in a doctor's waiting room such a waste of time? Jeanne Barnett explains how pharma can help make it worth the wait for patients

The doctor's waiting room is a digital classroom where pharma can seize a patient's undivided attention.

Recently, I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms with my 13-month-old granddaughter.

Subsequent to conquering a hemangioma behind her left eye, with the help of an off-label drug, she developed a chronic cough.

After seeing two pediatricians and a pediatric pulmonologist, she was referred to a pediatric otolaryngologist.

We (my husband, daughter, son-in-law, the baby and I) didn't expect a three-hour wait at the first appointment. Fifteen other people were in the waiting room.

By my calculation, together we were held hostage for 60 hours.

We wanted to learn about the doctor, or anything else for that matter, to help allay our terror and boredom; but there was no video, no magazines ... just our trusted cell phones and iPads.

The irony is how everyone just accepted this time theft so ‘patiently'. Today, a one-minute wait in a grocery line is unbearable, which is why the self-checkout is so popular.

Eventually, we accompanied the baby for a hearing test administered by a technician.

My husband and I sang "Wheels on the Bus" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider" 20 times each to hold her attention.

When pressed why it was taking so long, the technician told us the machine was either broken or the baby failed the test.

We finally met with Dr. O., who confirmed a problem and prescribed a "triple play" of medications.

We tried to focus on his lesson, roughly five seconds of poor quality visuals about the inner ear. They were boring and we were tired.

We endured this, even though collectively we had three iPads and four smartphones.

In the words of Walter Mossberg, referring to his glucose monitor (circa 1977 technology), "It's a piece of crap." The same phrase can be applied to Doctor O.'s educational materials and equipment.

Welcome to the digital waiting room

I envision a better scenario, which would make the whole experience more 21st century and more informative ...

We are welcomed to the waiting room by the gatekeeper/receptionist/librarian, and the list of otolaryngology QR codes and apps are made available to us. (For more on QR codes, see ‘How Quick Response codes can help pharma engage with patients'.)

There is a buzz in the room as patients and their loved ones share their findings.

We scan a QR code for Dr. O.'s greeting. We choose to watch the video information on his background, where he went to school, and why he chose his profession.

This becomes a "career day" experience, as does the pharma video showing the scientists at work in the oceans, jungles, and labs developing important medications.

We borrow a stylus and iPad (supplied by a pharma firm) from the librarian/receptionist to write down our questions on the clear, detailed anatomic images of the ear, nose, and throat using the otolaryngology DrawMD app created by Boston Scientific.

Our appointment is now jumpstarted. Now we are in the ballpark, ready to listen to our granddaughter's "triple play" therapy.

Later, on our own time, we can submit questions about the triple play and the hearing test to which the doctor can respond from his smartphone.

The "triple play" and the results of the digital hearing test appear on our smartphones.

Using digital technology, patients learn at their own pace and interactively offer feedback.

We need a Patient Manifesto! Our time is valuable! Make the waiting room a digital experience! I can hear the tweets already!

Patient advocate Jeanne Barnett founded the e-patient community at in 1996. For more information, see For more from Jeanne Barnett, see ‘Future pharma: The home as healthcare center' and ‘Patient power: From technology to treatments'.

For more on pharma, technology and patients, join the sector's other key players at Patient Adherence USA on October 24-25 in Philadelphia and Mobile Innovation for Pharma on December 1-2 in London.

For all our Patients' Week 2011 stories, check out the eyeforpharma website in September.