How One Hospital Zapped its ER Wait Time With an App

One of the biggest problems in emergency departments everywhere — for patients and providers alike — is wait time. "Anyone who runs an emergency department or urgent care [center] is concerned about wait times. The last thing you want is for someone to leave without treatment," says Cyndey Costello Busbee, assistant vice president of corporate communications and business development at The Medical Center of Central Georgia.

 

More than a year ago, The Medical Center of Central Georgia realized it had just this problem and no effective way to fix it.  After several unsuccessful attempts to engage their patients in emergency care, they were at a loss. "We were under a tremendous amount of pressure to address satisfaction in urgent and emergency care. We had lost market shares. So we set up a comprehensive steering committee of stakeholders and turned ourselves around in 40 days," says Ms. Busbee.

The remarkably quick time between crisis and recovery involved a quick but thorough reevaluation of the hospital's urgent care image. MCCG invested in a focus group, which let them in on something important: Perception of urgent care was tied heavily to the language and tools used to describe and brand it.

MCCG took the information to heart, investing in a full rebranding of its urgent care, including adding a mobile app, InQuicker. "If we were putting the stakes in the ground, we thought we should change the whole way we did business," says Ms. Busbee.

InQuicker reduces wait times by providing mobile triage for both patients and clinics. If a patient feels sick and primary care clinics aren't open, he or she can navigate to InQuicker on a computer or phone. Once the app locates the top few closest urgent care sites, the patient chooses a location, fills out some information and selects an appointment time — all from his or her mobile device. Upon selection of an appointment time, the patient is directed to a registration form that records, among other things, symptoms. That patient's place in line is now held.

Symptom data is immediately forwarded to a clinician, who reviews it and discerns whether or not a patient should come in. If the clinic can't identify the problem a patient is having, a nurse calls that patient and tells him or her to go to the emergency room.

The triage system allows patients to wait at home, rather than in a waiting room, which makes the entire care experience more pleasant, Ms. Busbee says. "When you show up for your appointment time, we greet you by name, and we see you straight away. We haven't gotten rid of waiting, it's just a more comfortable option."  

Ms. Busbee says it's a seamless process that has radically changed how MCCG does business. So many patients use the app that MCCG has had to expand the number of physicians, nurse practitioners and appointments involved in its urgent care process, effectively doubling 24-hour urgent care capacity.

While initial planning committees worried 15-minute slot turnarounds and patient expectations might prove to be problematic, the downsides have yet to emerge for the hospital, which has seen significant improvements in patient satisfaction since the app's implementation.  Patients like the access, clinicians have voiced their support and hospital business has improved.  

Ms. Busbee's advice for hospitals thinking about going mobile is to elicit opinions from as many stakeholders as possible in creating mobile solutions. Whether this is in the form of community focus groups, specialized champion steering committees, executive sponsors or even patient feedback, she says it's important to approach the move with complete information to get the most out of being on a mobile platform.

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