Digital wait-time counters could reduce ER tensions

Digital updates on emergency room wait times may reduce stress and make patients more manageable, according to an article in Slate.

London-based design firm PearsonLloyd developed an intervention for the U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS) to test the idea. A Better A&E (accident & emergency, the U.K.'s term for emergency rooms) involves the use of flowcharts posted in emergency waiting rooms with information about the steps to treatment.

The intervention also incorporates digital screens telling patients their wait times, much like those used at public transit stops, according to the article. The wait times are tailored to a patient's specific condition or injury, with options such as "major injuries," "minor injuries," "resuscitation" and "see and treat" consultations. The designers also floated the idea of an equivalent smartphone app, which would give patients the option of determining which local hospital would provide the fastest treatment.

Implementing the system drastically improved tension levels in ER waiting areas, according to PearsonLloyd Director Tom Lloyd.  "We were shocked by the fact that there was a 50 percent reduction in the aggressive incidents across the two hospitals after the implementation," he told Dezeen magazine. In addition, 75 percent of patients reportedly said they felt less frustrated by wait times with the signage present, according to Slate.

The intervention, while a relief to patients, could also help protect healthcare workers from hospital violence, according to Slate. Violence against NHS employees from patients or their relatives costs the NHS about $113 million per year, the article states. The firm told Slate that the interventions have improved retention and morale among employees, and employee absences due to stress have "fall[en] significantly after the implementation of the solutions."

There may be other ways to deal with the adverse effects of ER wait times as well. Mercy Health's Anderson Hospital in Cincinnati has experienced success in reducing wait times by as much as 70 percent by speeding up treatment and altering the process for "sorting" patients, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the Slate article
- here's the Dezeen article