Communications Technology Speeding ER Care Delivery
Posted Aug 20 2010 11:23pm
Despite the many difficulties and costs involved in the gradual movement of medical records systems to fully digital mode, it appears that where implemented, digital data systems are making quite a difference. A new study shows that patients treated at hospital emergency rooms that use all-digital-records systems are more likely to have shorter stays than at hospitals with paper or basic digital-records systems. The study was based on data from the 2006 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. It found that people spent 22.4% less time and were treated 13.1% more quickly at hospitals with complete electronic health-records systems compared with other hospitals. It also found that hospitals with basic computerized records were less efficient than other hospitals. Emergency-room wait times at those semi digital hospitals were 47.3% longer for patients with an urgent or semi-urgent matter. Of course, training of medical staff, physicians and nurses, is critical to both acceptance and overall ease of use of any system implemented.
Another trend just gaining ground is the use of "apps" for various mobile phones and PDA's as well as computer web site updates related to emergency room access and wait times. A suburban Boston hospital has introduced a new way for patients to avoid long emergency room waits -- texting. MetroWest Medical Center located outside of Boston in Framingham, launched the state's first texting program that allows potential patients to find out ER wait times before making the trip to the hospital. The hospital began the service last week in hopes of building its market share and improving ER performance -- and by extension, patient satisfaction. Since that time, people have sent in more than 450 text requests from their cell phones for wait times at the medical center's emergency rooms at Framingham Union Hospital and Leonard Morse in Natick. Average wait times as of yesterday afternoon were 24 minutes and 6 minutes, respectively. The medical center measures wait times from when patients check in to when they see a doctor. Ochsner Clinic, based in New Orleans, with affiliated throughout southeast Louisiana has also moved to the use of "apps" as well a maintaining a real time online report of wait times at the ERs in their various medical facilities.
Of course, in a real life and death emergency, it is hard to imagine anyone using any of these services since a call to 911 or an immediate trip to the hospital would seem more prudent. For less than life threatening emergencies, however, this would seem to be common sense concept, to reduce waiting and its associated frustration and tension which affects both care givers and patients. Health information technology and the use of newer applications that were not originally designed for health care (texting, mobile downloads, web based monitoring) will make the difference going forward. Real health reform will come from true innovation in technology and subsequent adaptation with service based innovations as well.