Hospital emergency departments are turning to a number of strategies to reduce wait times, amid growing concern about patients who leave without being seen. Leaving without treatment can lead to lost revenue for hospitals and health risks for patients. The national average of those who leave without being seen was about 2.7% in 2007-08, according to the most recent government data available. This is up from 1.7% between 1998 and 2006, according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins University researchers
“People who walk out without being seen are a measure of how we are basically failing as a health system in our ability to deliver important care in emergency departments,” says Renee Hsia, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of California San Francisco.
A recent study she led that was published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine shows the left-without-being-seen rate in California ranged as high as 20.3%. Visitors to hospitals serving a high proportion of low-income and poorly insured patients were far more likely to leave without being seen.
Hospitals are tackling a costly side effect of emergency-room overcrowding and long wait times by turning towards “lean” management techniques to speed patients more efficiently through the ER. Following are some effective measures:
- Posting wait times online or in the waiting rooms at different facilities so patients can chose the shortest option. Akron General Health System in Ohio went one step further last year and began providing live streaming of wait times on highway.
- Streamlining the traditional methods of triage and reserving beds for only the sickest patients, abandoning the longstanding rule that every patient gets a bed.
- Staffing the ER with less-costly providers such as nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants, so more expensive ER doctors can focus on care and not on paperwork and discharge plans.
- Allowing incoming ER patients to be quickly identified and tagged with a bar code linked to a new medical record. Rather than try to create a full medical record, patients were directed to the nearest available emergency room bed immediately after they were triaged as mentioned by Dr. Ted Chan, who works in the ED at the University of California, San Diego, Medical Center, where the average wait times for emergency patients hits two hours during peak demand periods
In addition to aforementioned measures, new protocols such as qTrack designed by department of emergency medicine at New Orleans-based Ochsner Health Systems relies more on providers like physician’s assistants for less-ill patients. Unlike traditional triage, which might take 10 minutes, qTrack has nurses giving a “quick look” evaluation to get basic information in three to five minutes.
A similar program, Door to Doc, which includes a model hospitals can use to match staffing levels to peak-demand periods, was developed by Banner Health, which cut the rate of patients who left before being seen to 0.5% from 8% in 2007.