For many, the words “emergency room” conjure feelings of dread about never-ending waits, as well as images of coughing, contagious fellow patients. Online services such as InQuicker are seeking to help emergency care and urgent care facilities alter the perception — and the reality — of a visit to the ER.
InQuicker is a digital service developed in 2006 to triage patients who have non-life-threatening injuries or who need urgent care. Patients visit a facility’s website equipped with InQuicker to view available appointment times and check in. They then receive a projected treatment time and can wait at home until it is time for their appointment.
Dignity Health, with facilities in Arizona, California and Nevada, has been using InQuicker since June 2013.
“Since we began offering InQuicker, thousands of patients have registered using this offering for the emergency room and urgent care,” says Christopher Cheng, MD, Medical Director at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco. “The online waiting service helps improve the experience of our patients by providing a convenient check-in process and timely communications about wait times. The system has also helped streamline emergency room care by minimizing the amount of unnecessary traffic and congestion in the emergency room.”
Connection, Communication and Comfort
Eight out of 10 patients are seen within 15 minutes of their appointment time, according to InQuicker. It isn’t difficult to imagine why such a system might prove popular: Nationwide, average emergency room wait times range from a low of 27 minutes in Louisiana to 35 minutes in New York. In today’s hyperconnected world, clearly communicating with patients about wait times can offer peace of mind.
Allowing patients to wait at home also reduces their exposure to infectious diseases. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 648,000 patients acquired 721,800 healthcare-associated infections at 183 acute care hospitals across the country.
Dr. Cheng notes that safeguards are built in to the online triaging process to make sure patients know whether it’s OK to wait it out at home or if they should be dialing 911 for symptoms such as chest pain or loss of movement on one side of the body.
“We closely monitor our patients’ usage of InQuicker and have carefully constructed the registration process and protocols on our websites to ensure InQuicker is used appropriately by patients with non-life-threatening emergencies …,” he says. “Emergency room use should be reserved for true medical emergencies. We are actively working to help educate patients about the appropriate care settings they can access.”