New process reduces emergency department wait times and enhances patient care

The morning of Friday, July 8, 2011 started off like any other morning for Marlo Chartland, until later that evening when she was struck with extreme abdominal pain. The pain was so unbearable that she was taken to Southlake Regional Health Centre’s emergency department (ED) to seek medical attention.

Many patients – including Marlo – dread going into any hospital’s ED because of the often-congested waiting room that awaits them. This is one concern that Southlake’s ED has been constantly working towards improving.

On June 6, 2011, a new patient process was implemented at Southlake, and now when patients come into the ED, they will be triaged by a registered nurse and then immediately taken into a Patient Treatment Area rather than being directed to a waiting room where they may sit for several hours before seeing a doctor.

To Marlo’s surprise, once she entered Southlake’s ED, she was seen by a doctor within half-an-hour of being triaged. “The new process was much faster than previous visits,” says Marlo. “The changes to Southlake’s ED show the public that the hospital cares about us and that they are trying to improve wait times. I feel that Southlake is one of the best hospitals in the GTA and I would recommend its ED to everyone I know.”

Southlake’s short-term goal is to have every patient assessed by a doctor in less than three hours after their arrival in the department, exceeding the provincially mandated goal of 3.6 hours. Southlake will continue to implement new changes to this process, with a long-term goal of having every patient seen by a doctor in less than one hour.

Since the launch of the new process, Southlake’s ED has decreased the average time patients spend waiting to see a doctor by over an hour-and-a-half. Now the average time for a doctor to see a patient is just over one hour, and nine out of 10 patients are seen by a doctor within 2.3 hours.

“We want to offer better and faster service to our patients. In emergency medicine, speed is a major factor in quality,” says Dr. Marko Duic, Chief, Department of Emergency Medicine, Southlake. “In some cases, the longer patients wait to be seen, the more likely they will experience adverse outcomes, so this new process is a major quality initiative. As well, people coming in for less-major emergencies will likely be pleased to be in and out of the emergency room so quickly.”

This new process is part of Southlake’s Emergency Department’s constant commitment to maintain high satisfaction rates within the Hospital. Patients of Southlake are randomly selected to fill out Patient Satisfaction surveys and more than 80 per cent of them have consistently rated the overall quality of care and service of the Emergency Department as good, very good, or excellent with more than 30 per cent of patients giving the Department the highest possible rating of ‘excellent’ in the last quarter of 2010.

“We will continue to incorporate new changes to this process and give our patients the quick and professional care they require,” adds Dr. Duic. “We want to continue to hold Ontario’s highest patient satisfaction rating by providing the highest possible quality of care. We were already well on our way in patient satisfaction even before this change.”

Southlake is committed to ensuring that every patient who comes into its Emergency Department has the best possible experience.

“Having shorter wait times is an essential part of our patients’ experience,” says Helena Hutton, Vice President, Department of Emergency, Southlake. “Our goal is to reduce wait times for our patients, but we will continue to take the time we need to accommodate patients who require difficult treatments and need advanced testing.”

Shane McKenna is a recent Durham College Public Relations graduate and a former Corporate Communications Student Assistant at Southlake Regional Health Centre.