Patients sometimes wait hours for treatment. To provide better care to patients, it’s crucial to reduce their wait times at the hospital, particularly in the emergency department (ED). 

It’s no secret that patients who are seen ASAP have better outcomes than those who have to wait for long periods of time. With many conditions, such as heart attacks and strokes, every second is critical to a patient’s survival and chance at recovery.

Although it’s a tough task, there are certain steps hospitals can take to improve patient wait times. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently released a report about wait times in health care. The report contains a detailed overview of the problem and how hospitals can solve it.

Major causes

Several factors contribute to delays in hospitals and other healthcare settings, according to the IOM, including:

  • mismatched supply and demand
  • care and reimbursement complexity
  • a provider-focused approach to scheduling, and
  • financial and geographic barriers

The IOM suggests that hospitals should take a page from other industries in the private sector to make a big difference in wait times, taking such concepts as lean management and Six Sigma and applying them to health care. The idea is to address some of these problems by boosting efficiency – and without sacrificing care quality.

Cut down on waiting

With that goal in mind, hospital executives should try four key strategies when attempting to improve patient wait times:

  1. Revamp the front-line scheduling process. Scheduling surgeries and other non-life-threatening procedures should take supply and demand into account. Patients should be scheduled for these procedures on days where the hospital’s less likely to have a spike in patient volume due to a busy evening in the ED.
  2. Make reducing wait times a part of the hospital’s culture. Healthcare executives must make wait times a priority in their facility. This means they must implement specific policies designed to address problems that can lead to increased wait times, including staffing policies. They must also commit to regularly evaluating their hospitals’ work flow and be willing to invest in solutions to speed up care delivery, including automated systems designed to streamline scheduling.
  3. Incorporate patient preferences. Scheduling should be focused on patients, not providers. So it’s important for hospitals to reach out to patients so they can find out what kinds of changes would best suit their needs. Some hospitals have given patients access to systems where they can make their own ED appointments for less-critical issues – or they’ll give patients an estimated wait time over the phone before they arrive so they can make other arrangements, if necessary.
  4. Consider alternate methods of care delivery. To ease the burden of high wait times, hospitals can try treating patients in other ways. Telemedicine may be one solution for ED patients with less serious issues. Hospitals may also partner directly with nearby urgent care clinics and other healthcare entities so they can provide patients with an alternative to the ED to lower their wait time.
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