ER Just Got Easier

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Imagine walking into an emergency waiting room with a minor, but very uncomfortable cut on your forehead.  It’s a Saturday afternoon and the lobby is bustling with sick and injured patients waiting desperately to see the next available nurse or doctor. Now imagine this – you only had to wait for 10 minutes before hearing your name called at the front desk.  That’s hard to believe, right?  We’ve all been there before – whether we were the ones sustaining an injury or illness, or we were the ones waiting patiently with our sick loved ones.  At some point, we remember staring at that clock on the wall … 35 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour and counting … wondering if we would ever get to see a doctor.  What if I told you that you didn’t have to wait anymore?  What if your wait time barely exceeded 15 to 20 minutes at the most?

The South Texas Health System recently implemented a new plan of action to decrease wait times in busy emergency hospitals.  The program is called ER Reserve, and if you have a smartphone or a computer, then you can decrease your wait time substantially just with a press of a button.

The program is streamlined and incredibly user-friendly when put to the test. On a smartphone, labtop, or computer, the patient will log on to www.southtexashealthsystem.com and select the “ER Reserve” logo. From there, the patient is prompted to choose the closest area hospital he or she wishes to be treated in.  Upon choosing a hospital, a new window pops up with a disclaimer. Once you have agreed to the disclaimer, the rest is very simple. Information fields are filled out and a time is chosen. The patient then receives an email to verify the chosen appointment and the process is complete.   It’s very similar to booking an appointment online at a hair salon or with the Genius Bar at an Apple retail store.  The process is simple and cuts your wait time in half.

But is this program really necessary in area ER hospitals?  Although convenient for patients, does this type of initiative make sense from a business perspective? According to Jason Chang, the CEO of McAllen Heart Hospital, the initiative is necessary in reducing wait times because ER visits are increasing nationally across the board.  In 2013, there were approximately 74,863 visits at STHS emergency hospitals. The rise in visits can be attributed to several factors, according to Chang, including a shortage in primary doctors, uninsured patients, and the passing of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

The American College of Emergency Physicians recently sent out a press release stating that, “…86 percent expect emergency visits to increase over the next three years.  More than three-fourths (77 percent) say their ERs are not adequately prepared for significant increases.”  The reality of overcrowded waiting rooms was something Chang and his team recognized as a potential problem in area hospitals.  And so, the ER Reserve was born. The program would initially streamline the process – making it not only more comfortable for patients, but more viable for doctors and staff.

“Reducing patient wait times increases patient satisfaction,” said Chang. “By requesting a time to be seen, patients needing care at one of our emergency rooms can wait in the comfort of their own home (or wherever they prefer) until it is time to be medically evaluated by a healthcare provider. Today with the available technology, we are streamlining how our community can receive emergency care.”

But Chang does stress that this program should not be used in life-threatening situations. “ER Reserve and the monitoring of wait times are ONLY intended to be used in conjunction with minor injuries or illnesses,” he explained. “We advise our patients that if symptoms worsen or they experience symptoms of a life-threatening occurrence such as a heart attack or stroke, they are not to use ER Reserve and should instead call 9-1-1 or get to the nearest emergency room.”