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SVMC creates virtual waiting room to encourage distancing

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BENNINGTON — Starting Monday, many people who need in-person appointments at Southwestern Vermont Health Care's hospital and clinics will no longer need to use traditional waiting rooms, the hospital has announced. A virtual system created by the hospital allows patients to call 802-447-5000 when they arrive in the parking lot and receive a text message when their provider is ready to see them.

SVMC's outpatient and inpatient surgeries and diagnostic services, like those for imaging and laboratory work, have resumed with enhanced safety protocols per the directive of Gov. Phil Scott. The health system's emergency department, ExpressCare, emergency surgical services, and most of its primary and specialty practices remained open during the pandemic.

"SVHC has provided safe, high-quality care throughout the pandemic," Thomas A. Dee, Southwestern Vermont Health Care's president and CEO, said in a media release. "Innovation has been an important part of providing care during these extraordinary times and this new program decreases the number of people in our waiting rooms and allows them to stay the recommended 6 feet apart or more."

In order to use the virtual waiting room, patients must be able to wait in their vehicle and have a charged cell phone with them. They will receive the virtual waiting room telephone number during their appointment-reminder telephone call. Signs outside the building and at the respiratory check-in stations inside the main hospital and medical office building entrances will also include the number to call.

Patients simply call the number when they arrive in the parking lot and wait in their cars. When the provider is ready to see them, they will receive a text message alert to indicate that they should come in.

"We love that we can use the same technology that most people carry with them to help people stay socially distanced," said Gail Balch, RN, who directs information technology at SVMC. "It's through innovations like this one that we are able to resume services safely and ensure patients receive the care they need."

Hospital and clinic staff expect that the new program will allow greater distance between people who must use traditional waiting rooms, including those who walked or took public transportation to their appointment and those who do not have a cell phone.

Additional safety protocols indicate that all patients should arrive to the hospital or clinic with their own cloth face covering. Face coverings must be worn over the mouth and nose for the entire duration of patients' visits. Patients should also come alone, unless they absolutely need assistance from a loved one.

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