Real-time wait clock manages expectations in emergency department

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Cari McCulloch, ED RN uses online wait clock in MSH ED.
Cari McCulloch, ED RN uses online wait clock in MSH ED.

We live in a world where information is always accessible and at our fingertips. You can find the answer to nearly any question, anywhere, at any time – and this mobile world has conditioned us to expect nothing less.

So how do you accommodate this growing need to know answers immediately in a setting that wasn’t built around this need?

Following the expansion of Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH), the emergency department (ED) was facing a challenging time meeting the expectations of patients in this increasingly mobile world. Patients felt they weren’t being kept in the loop on wait times; registration and triage staff were being pulled away from their duties to answer questions about who would be seen next – all while the number of emergency visits continued to grow.

The number one question patients ask in the ED is how long will I wait? To help satisfy patients’ needs for constant progress updates without interrupting the flow of the ED, MSH searched for an answer that provided patients with the information they were looking for without the need for extra manpower.

The solution – a real-time wait clock in the ED and online.

The real-time wait clock is a patient-centered communication tool designed to enable real-time information on the current wait times in the ED. Designed and formulated with input from the very patients who visit and make use of ED services, the wait clock delivers a simple, visual message that indicates the estimated wait time to see a physician as well as the projected wait time over the following six hours based on past trends.

In early 2015, MSH introduced the first wait clock in the ED at the Markham site, followed by the launch of the online wait clock and Uxbridge site wait clock. Now, anyone sitting in the ED at either site, or anyone with a computer or mobile device can access, in real-time, information about the current state of the Markham and Uxbridge site EDs.

“Staff and patients have really enjoyed having ready access to the information and have found the wait clock to be a very useful tool,” says Clint Atendido, Director, Emergency, Surgical Services and Patient Flow. “The numbers also speak for themselves – we have had over 15,000 visits to the wait clock online alone since the online launch on April 1, 2015.”

From the minute you realize you need to visit the ED, life is on hold for patients and their families. For some people, that means figuring out what to do with children, figuring out work schedules and planning for rides to and from the ED.

Having access to the wait clock not only helps patients and families within the ED – it helps them prior to their visit. Patients and their families can access the Markham and Uxbridge site clocks online and make plans to accommodate their visit with accurate information, making their time less stressful and more about direct patient care. The online clock also lists other care providers/alternatives to the ED in the area to help patients make an informed decision about whether the ED, a walk in clinic or a phone call to Telehealth Ontario is the best option for them.

“The wait clock is visual and easy to understand. It keeps patients informed and frees up staff to provide direct patient care,” says Cari McCulloch, ED RN. “Our ED puts a high importance on good patient/provider communication and this clock is another tool we can use to keep patients informed – and most importantly, it ensures staff, patients and visitors all have access to the same information at the same time.”

The wait clock displays wait times in 30 minute increments and updates every five minutes with high accuracy; 90 per cent of patients are seen within the projected time.

The Markham and Uxbridge site wait clocks are one more step in improving and enhancing the patient experience at MSH. An informed patient is an empowered patient – and the best outcomes happen when patients are partners in their care. Together with Oculys, the wait clock technology provider, MSH is changing the patient experience – one click at a time.

MSH’s real-time ED wait clocks can be accessed online at www.msh.on.ca