St. Mary's, Calvert Memorial hospitals shorten E.R. wait times
Thursday, February 10, 2011
For many people, trips to the emergency room often mean long, frustrating waits.
But in recent years, two Southern Maryland hospitals have implemented procedures to reduce time spent in waiting rooms - a change that hospital officials say safeguards patients' health and reduces aggravation.
The changes have also allowed St. Mary's and Calvert Memorial hospitals to buck national and statewide trends of long emergency room visits.
Both hospitals streamlined admission processes and upgraded technology to get patients treatment faster, including altering their systems so registration, assessment and treatment can run simultaneously, hospital officials said. Now, workers at the two hospitals assign new patients to exam rooms as soon as possible. Nurses then do registration paperwork at the patients' bedsides.
The hospitals also have adopted protocols that allow triage nurses at the hospitals to order some procedures and tests so that diagnosis can proceed before the patient has seen a doctor, officials said.
The protocols, created by physicians, dictate the nurses' decisions, said Dawn Yeitrakis, director of emergency services at St. Mary's Hospital in Leonardtown.
At Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick, officials last year introduced a process called "rapid medical evaluation," said John Schnabel, chief of emergency medicine at Calvert Memorial.
"At times when we can't pull someone directly back to a bed we put a [health care] provider up front just after triage to make sure labs and X-rays are ordered as soon as possible. . . . It really does reduce the amount of time you're in the emergency department and that's been well-received by patients," Schnabel said.
Calvert Memorial also has instituted a "fast track" in which a doctor is assigned to the least urgent cases, so people whose lives are not in danger but who do need treatment can receive timely help, said Schnabel and Stephanie Cleaveland, director of the hospital's emergency department.
The procedures have reduced the amount of time emergency patients have had to wait to receive treatment, hospital officials said.
At St. Mary's Hospital, during the first quarter of fiscal 2009, the average time it took an emergency room patient to get to an exam room was 45 minutes; in 2010, it had fallen to 17 minutes.
In the last quarter of 2008, 6.3 percent of people who came to the hospital's emergency room left without being seen; that number dropped to 1.1 percent during the same period last year, Yeitrakis said.