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Deloitte's Life Sciences & Health Care Blog

Will innovative health systems make ER waiting rooms obsolete?

Geisinger Health Systems is trying to make emergency room wait times a thing of the past. In a provider-focused system, the patient waits for the care team. Geisinger and a few other health systems want to change the paradigm to a more patient-centered one, which ideally would eliminate wait times.

Geisinger wants to phase out ER wait times in two years through strategies that include hiring more clinicians and implementing online registration through a mobile app. The system may convert its physical waiting room into clinical space. Reduced wait times could reduce illness and spread of infection as well as being more patient centered by increasing patient satisfaction and comfort.

Startups and other companies that develop mobile apps and other technology platforms are striving to help health systems reduce wait times. One company, CrossChx, specializes in creating patient health identification to streamline communications among different hospital departments and staff who share and exchange patient information. Streamlining this information among staff is one strategy to reduce wait times. Another capability of CrossChx’s tools involves letting patients and families know how long the wait is. While this may not eliminate the wait time, it gives patients more information, which can reduce frustration. The company has an app called QLess, which alerts users about their wait time and can enable them to register remotely, potentially saving time.

Zoom+ is another company targeting wait times and patient experience. It is offered by a medical retail clinic provider that recently started selling health insurance through the Oregon exchange; its target population is millennials. It allows patients to make same-day appointments through a mobile app, keeps them updated on wait times in both urgent care and primary settings so they can avoid a waiting room, and offers a one stop shop approach for appointments, labs, and medications.

Analysis: A key question is whether or not getting rid of ER wait times would save hospital money or reduce revenues. Some analysts think it is possible through streamlining and automating processes and reducing the need for wait room staff. In an increasingly value-based care environment, payment is more tied to customer satisfaction and experience. Increased use of telehealth may also reduce reliance on the ER.

The Deloitte report, Emergency room use under the ACA, shows that improving outcomes and patient experience in the ER calls for:

  • Expanding access to lower-cost settings
  • Better directing patients to the right care setting through increased education and coordination activities.

Patient call centers as well as health plans’ knowledge of their members’ health care services use patterns are other strategies that may help health plans guide members to the most appropriate care sites and may help health systems like Geisinger reduce or eliminate wait times.

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Author bio

Doug leads Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Life Sciences and Health Care practice. With 24 years of experience, he works closely with multiple top health care organizations on major clinical and enterprise transformation efforts and on large-scale technology implementation projects. Doug has extensive experience in comprehensive quality and patient safety transformations, turnaround and performance improvement in academic medical centers as well as organization/workflow redesign and technology enablement. He has served as the lead on a number of enterprise transformation initiatives with some of Deloitte’s most largest and most complex clients.