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If you work in healthcare it will come as no surprise to you that patients are no longer simply patients, they are consumers too. Even when patients rush to the nearest emergency room (ER) to save life and limb, they will evaluate their care by the cleanliness of your waiting room and how they were treated by staff.  Stopping the bleeding or saving a life is no longer enough. The powerful movement of patient satisfaction is one of the leading reasons why HCAHPS are now tied to reimbursements, Press Ganey patient satisfaction surveys impact budget strategies, and CMS includes patient satisfaction as a quality measurement.

However, here’s the problem; the drive to improve patient satisfaction runs headlong into the basic premise of emergency room care.  How exactly are you supposed to triage life-threatening conditions, without creating patient dissatisfaction over ER wait times? If every touch point is an opportunity for a successful or failed experience during the patient journey, what is to be done in light of ER waits?

It’s not easy. Successfully reducing ER wait times is tantamount to changing organizational culture. Not only is the ER the door to the hospital, the fingers of the ER reach deep into the arteries of hospital operations and change at that level is extensive- and expensive.

Look at Stroger Hospital in Illinois. They faced extraordinary ER wait times; 110,000 patient visits a year, 2+ hours for non-emergency conditions and a full 10% of patients left without being seen (talk about revenue hemmoragh). Determined to turn the situation around, hospital leaders virtually eliminated the ER waiting room. They instituted “immediate bedding” where patients were led to an available bed immediately upon arrival at the ER and triaged there. A physician had to quickly evaluate non-urgent cases and appropriately discharge them. At the same time the hospital had to reduce diagnostic imaging and lab time by purchasing additional equipment.

Obviously, not every hospital can afford the Stroger approach to change. But you can reduce ER waits with some simple, effective strategies that can improve patient satisfaction too.

Talk to your patients. It’s that simple.  Walk into the ER waiting room regularly. Tell patients they have not been forgotten. If a mass casualty accident is filling your ER, tell them that too. People’s empathy makes them more understanding while waiting.

Concierge: Hiring a concierge to liaison between the ER waiting room and treatment rooms increases patient satisfaction. They update patients on wait times and give crayons and coloring books to children. A happy child is a happy parent.

Community awareness of wait times: This is a tricky proposition. Some hospitals purchase space on digital billboards to post ER wait times. Others allow patients to schedule ER appointments online for non-life threatening conditions. The simplest solution is perhaps the best; have the ER receptionist give callers the current ER wait time.

Security: If you are an urban trauma center, you already have ER security built into operations. If you are in a suburb, train hospital security to regularly scan the ER waiting room. Your patients don’t want to watch a divorced couple argue or a drunk rampage. Make sure security is vigilant about keeping the ER calm.

It’s safe to say that the challenges of the ER are not going to go away any time soon but it doesn’t have to prevent you from increasing patient satisfaction. When a patient has the opportunity to tell you how they feel about their care, before they leave the ER, they feel empowered, and acknowledged. This can increase patient satisfaction and as a result, your ROI. That closes the all important loop of ER care, patient satisfaction and reimbursement. HCXP is the creator of a five point, 5 Star rating system for all in house satisfaction questionnaires and one comparison/benchmark reporting system.

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