“A rose by any other name is still a rose.”

So is a waiting room.

No matter what emergency departments do to give patients the impression they aren’t waiting, the patients know they are.

Who can blame the EDs for trying? When wait time increases, patient satisfaction goes down, and under current regulations, that means lower reimbursements.

The Centers for Disease Control says average wait times nationwide increased 25 percent between 2003 and 2009, from 46 minutes to 58 minutes.

Press Ganey, however, estimates that average ED wait time is four hours from entrance to discharge. Their survey of ED patients showed that after just 30 minutes of waiting, average patient satisfaction scores dropped from 95 percent to 80 percent, a significant amount for satisfaction scores.

In a round up article on ED time-saving strategies, Marty Stempniak quoted healthcare consultant Rob Klein as saying that in focus groups he hears the same thing from patients –“Physicians have to learn that my time is as valuable as theirs.”

According to Klein, even if excellent clinical service is a given, customer service is what makes a hospital stand out.

Since backlogs in the rest of the hospital are responsible for much of the backups that EDs face, one wonders why more attention hasn’t been paid to those areas.  Stempniak says hospitals are “mining data to pinpoint the root causes of downtime” and asking patients themselves about ways to improve their healthcare experience.  He cites such tactics as using kiosks for sign in, or having a roving facilitator with an iPad® device available to assist with filling out forms.

But the biggest causes of backlogs, the physical movement of patients through the system and access to inpatient beds, are often overlooked in such searches. The fact is that, in most hospitals, time is wasted at every step of the patient path when most of the processes involved are done manually.

For example, just getting a bed for a new patient can take hours when the process relies on phone calls and each unit has control of its beds.  Automated capacity management systems can reduce that to just minutes. When you consider that time saving like that can be replicated at 30-40 points during a patient’s stay, and multiply that by the number of admitted patients, you can begin to see why the chaos in the rest of the hospital is backing up the ED.

Automated capacity management systems also offer accountability for each employee and a data stream which tracks the “who, what, when, and where” of every event relating to the patient’s journey through the health system.

There are no silver bullets.  Kaizen, Six Sigma, Lean Management and other process focused efforts can all have impact on improving efficiency in hospitals. In fact, TeleTracking learns from elements of each in the design of its automated processes to improve throughput.

To quote from Stempniak’s article:

“The bottom line is at risk, too, and hospital executives who ignore wait times can expect a dramatic reduction in reimbursement, says Christy Dempsey, R.N., chief nursing officer for Press Ganey. The tie to payment will become more pronounced in the coming years, with the arrival of the Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems — CGCAHPS — patient survey, which specifically asks how often a respondent has waited 15 minutes or more to see a doctor.”

To find out more about the role that TeleTracking’s automated operational management tools can play in reducing wait times and making patients happier, click here.

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