Calling ahead for a spot in the ER
Susan Kim, Stephanie Graham
Not many people enjoy waiting what can feel like an eternity in the emergency room. Candi Sturgell uses the ER appointment system.
"You have folks that have to come in who are really, really sick and you want them to be seen but you don't necessarily want to sit amongst them and get sick yourself," she explains.
That's why Candi is a big fan of ER Express, one of a growing number of companies hospitals now use to allow patients to call in advance and make an ER appointment. So, when Candi walks into the ER, they're ready to see her.
The appointments are the most recent change taking place in emergency rooms trying to cope with a growing number of patients. In the last decade, the number of emergency department visits has increased 32%, and is expected to double again over the next ten years.
Sahil Patel with ER Express explains, "For those patients who are sick but don't have a life-threatening illness, you're just getting to hold your place in line."
Sounds like a great plan, right? Well, not everyone is on board. Dr. Dino Rumoro is a fellow with the American College of Emergency Physicians. He's concerned patients will be confused. "An emergent condition is an emergent condition and it's not subject to booking an appointment. It means you need to be seen right away."
Dr. Rumoro says we're blurring the real intent of an ER, by giving patients the impression they have to book ahead.
"It seems more like we're providing a specialty service at that point, or a privileged service, and the emergency departments are set up to be there for patients whenever they feel they have a true emergency," Dr. Rumoro says.
Companies behind the appointment idea say there are disclaimers on the sites to be sure those with urgent issues get immediate help.
"Our software reads the symptoms the patient puts in and if they type in something like chest pain or bleeding or numbness, it'll actually stop them, block them and say based on what you told us you need to call 911," Patel explains.
Doctors in the hospitals already using the appointment system say it actually allows them to improve the care they give.
Dr. Carlos Garcia notes, "We know ahead of time what they're coming for, we have their charts ready."
Candi says when she used the service the last time she was thrilled. The only people who weren't were those who watched as she walked right in to be seen. "They did look like 'what was going on? Why are they getting this vip treatment?"
It also helps hospitals guide patients away from their traditionally heavy hours, like 4-6 in the afternoon, toward appointments for times when the ER is usually slower.