Tuesday, April 6, 2010

One ED's High Tech Approach to Manage Wait Times

I read with interest about a hospital (which shall remain nameless) using text messaging technology to keep potential patients abreast of current wait times in their Emergency Department. This is the next step past the many hospitals that already post ED wait times on their website. This strikes me as the wrong use of resources for two reasons.

First, by posting the wait times, aren't you really trying to discourage the people who don't need to be there in the first place from coming when its busy? It is the job of triage to be the gatekeeper for appropriate patients. But on the other hand, by texting that you have no wait, are you inviting inappropriate patients to come just so your staff will have something to do? If you truly need to use an ED, it shouldn't depend on the wait. And if you really only need some primary care, you should see your doctor or an urgent care center whether your local ED is busy or not.

Second, a financial investment in improved throughput for your ED makes more sense than investing in technology to tell everyone how long your waits are. If your waits are short you don't need to warn people. But if they are long do you really want the world to know? Wouldn't it be much better to get a reputation of having consistently short waits?

Coincidentally, Compirion did an ED project at a hospital not far from the one texting wait times. I am sure they are competitors. The hospital we worked at is now boasting about a number of quality improvements from quicker ED throughput to a dramatically low mortality rate. In my mind, knowing the ED wait time is a nice feature but I will take my chances with the hospital that has the high quality and service reputation.

More on this later.

Mark Brodeur

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