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ED Tries Telemedicine in Bid to Cut Wait Times

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, June 20, 2013

A medical center with long emergency department wait times is running a pilot study to test whether telemedicine can connect doctors to the virtual bedside of waiting patients much faster.

That University of California San Diego Medical Center doctors would try something new in an effort to make their emergency care more efficient makes sense for a bunch of reasons.

The 505-bed dual-campus hospital is a major teaching and research center supported by the state. It treats large numbers of uninsured and very sick patients. Its emergency rooms are usually very busy.

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And the patients who go there endure insufferable waits that average 296 minutes—longer than at 11 other major hospitals in the county and double the national average—before they are sent home, according to the latest wait times posted on Hospital Compare.

But UCSD also has David Guss, MD, chair of the department of emergency medicine, who realizes only too well that patient demand for immediate care is only going to increase as millions more patients take advantage of coverage options rolling out next year under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Why not, he thought to himself about two years ago, do a pilot study to test whether ED telemedicine can connect doctors to the virtualbedside of waiting patients much faster. Could it work? Would it be safe? Are there potential unintended consequences or adverse events? Will the right tests get ordered and can the correct diagnoses be reliably made? Will patients and doctors both be happier about the experience?

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