Split ED Flow, Watch Your Bottom Line Grow

Karen Minich-Pourshadi, for HealthLeaders Media , April 2, 2012

Once medication was given to stop the vomiting, we stayed in the room with our son for another hour and half before a nurse said we could go home. In total, we spent over three and a half hours in the ED, and our son spent more than 90 minutes in a bed. In hindsight I wondered why the first nurse couldn't have made the same diagnosis as the physician. Had I gone to a pediatrician's office, the same diagnosis plus a trip to the pharmacy to get the medication would've taken an hour.

As a CFO, do you see any flaws with this scenario? Is it reminiscent of patient visits to your hospital's or health system's ED?

As a consumer, I'm angry about having to wait so long to get my child some relief. My experience at this ED has soured me on the rest of the hospital. If this is how inefficiently the organization runs an essential area like the ED, what's the rest of the place like? The organization hasn't lost one patient, but three—me, my husband, and my son.

My experience didn't have to be this way. There are tools available to help healthcare institutions improve their patient flow while reducing costs.

In 2005, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality awarded more than $9 million for 17 new grants under its Partnerships in Implementing Patient Safety program. One grant winner was "Improving Patient Flow in the Emergency Department," led in part by Twila Burdick, vice president of organizational performance at Banner Health in Phoenix. The project analyzed a patient flow process called Door to Doc, which reduces the time that ED patients wait to be seen by a physician by moving them through two different intake processes.

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3 comments on "Split ED Flow, Watch Your Bottom Line Grow"

dmmitchell (4/6/2012 at 3:38 PM)
People come to the ED because they have are distressed or diseased. The Latin root of the prefix means discomfort with...something that all of us who work in the arena need to remember. Having worked as a RN in EDs for the past 25 years, I have some insight into both the process of the ED and as a consumer of how it feels to be either the patient or the patient's loved one. All patients should be greeted promptly, their anxieties acknowledged, and be informed of what will happen and approximately how long things will take, barring the unforseen. Will we satisfy every need of every individual? Of course not, but a little kindness and anticipation of what the presenting people are going through goes a long way. It is often the most basic things that are forgotten and it is the many small things that satisfy patients.

Kahlan (4/4/2012 at 5:22 PM)
Ms. Minich, I agree completely with Josh. One of the reasons Emergency Departments get backed up is that the majority of kids we see do not need "emergency" care. Parents need to educate themselves better on what truly constitutes an emergency. A toddler with a 102ยบ fever does not, especially if it has lasted less than 24 hours. A child who is vomiting for less than 24 hours does also not constitute an emergency. Yet every time a child with an ear infection, pink eye or some other minor condition is brought to the ED rather than their own primary care physician, it takes up bed space and time for the patients who really DO need to be seen quickly. There is a finite number of beds in every ED and a limited number of staff to attend to them. Perhaps you would serve your readers better by educating them on which provider to see rather than slamming the hospital who didn't get you in and out in your preferred time. An ED is not a McDonalds.

josh (4/2/2012 at 5:35 PM)
Ms. Minich, I'm sorry your son was ill recently. But you went to an ER for a kid with a fever. An ER is there for gun shots, car crashes, heart attacks, etc. I don't know how sick or well your child may have been. But did you reach out to all the other places that would have given you as good or better care and would have provided as good or better satisfaction? Did you call your pediatrician or family doctor for telephone advice first to see if any immediate medical attention was needed? Did you go to an urgent care center or walk-in rather than a hospital ER? Does your pediatrician/family doc have extended evening and weekend hours? All of these might have gotten you faster more personal service. You asked, "why didn't the first nurse give us the diagnosis?" Because nurses don't make or give diagnoses, doctors (or nurse practitioners) do. "Why did we have to wait so long before being seen?" Because there are other sick patients who need the attention of medical care more urgently. "Why did it take 90 more minutes before we were sent home?" Maybe because it takes time to see if nausea medicine works and whether more interventions would be needed. Odd conclusions you draw. When people come to my ER and are disappointed, they think poorly of the ER and of ER's in general. They don't think poorly of the entire hospital or the entire health organization that owns it.




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