Wall Street Journal Examines Some Hospitals’ Solutions To ER Overcrowding
The Wall Street Journal today examines the "huge and prolonged problem" of hospital emergency room overcrowding and the steps that several hospitals are taking to reduce ER waiting time. Nearly two-thirds of all ERs in the United States report being at or over capacity, according to a survey by the American College of Emergency Physicians. The average patient waits 49 minutes before seeing an ER physician, according to studies by VHA Inc. The "seemingly intractable problems" of ERs nationwide are being addressed with a variety of tactics, and "some of them ... are actually starting to work," the Journal reports. The following are some successful solutions:
- Oakwood Hospital and Medical Center in Dearborn, Mich., two years ago began promising that any patient arriving at its ER who wasn't seen by a doctor within 30 minutes would receive a written apology and two free movie passes. The hospital "reengineer[ed]" its billing, records and operations processes, upgraded its technical staff and replaced its entire ER physician group with a new staff that agreed to work longer hours. As a result, all four of Oakwood Health System's hospitals are now employing the system, and the average time a patient waits to see a doctor has been cut to 17 minutes. Only about 1,700 of Oakwood's 191,000 ER patients, or fewer than 1%, last year requested the free tickets. According to Corinne Victor, administrator of emergency services, all of Oakwood's hospitals will begin offering a 15-minute guarantee beginning in October or November.
- Memorial Health Services in Long Beach, issues free medical identification cards through its Web site that can be swiped into a computer to quickly register a patient and provide "instant vital information" for ER physicians and nurses. So far, the hospital has issued 500,000 identification cards. About 75 other hospitals have expressed interest in licensing the system. The hospital also uses a "sophisticated" computer system which gives administrators a "complete up-to-the-minute status report" on each patient in the ER.
- Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford, Fla., is one of many hospitals that has begun employing a "dual track" system, in which patients with "relatively minor ailments" are put into "fast track" units in order to "get them in and out of emergency beds quickly." Central Florida Regional has a "regular" ER with 16 beds and an adjacent section with six beds for "lesser emergencies." Patients "facing imminent loss of life" are directed into the regular ER, while patients with "minor cuts" go to an express line for the alternative ER beds. The fast track section can also be used for overflow of more serious cases. On average, the total time patients spend in Central Florida Regional's ER is 1.4 hours, approximately half the national average (Wysocki, Wall Street Journal, 7/3).
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