Telemedicine pilot aims to reduce ER wait times

The University of California-San Diego Health System has launched a telemedicine pilot program in order to help decrease emergency room wait times for patients, according to an announcement from the university. The program is designed to enable doctors to see patients via video when the ED becomes busy.

Cameras will be used to bring on-call physicians who are outside of the hospital to the patient in need. In this scenario, offsite doctors are paged who then remotely link to a telemedicine station to see patients. The telemedicine physician is able to examine a patient's eyes, ears, nose, throat and skin, as well as listen to heart and lung sounds through the module. In addition, laboratory and imaging tests can be ordered and results reviewed.

The goal of the study is to determine if the technology can decrease wait times while reducing the number of patients who leave the ED without being seen by a physician. Currently, six rooms in UC San Diego Health System's Hillcrest ED can accommodate the telemedicine module, and the project can be activated during the busiest times, typically Monday through Friday. 

"ED overcrowding increases patient risk and decreases patient satisfaction with emergency services," Vaishal Tolia, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at UC San Diego Health System, said in the announcement. "Implementing telemedicine in the emergency department setting may improve the overall experience for both patients and medical staff."

Last year, the UC San Diego Medical Center teamed up with nearby Tri-City Medical Center to bring telehealth into the hospital's neo-natal ICU unit. The program offers full audio and video conferencing, which Tri-City physicians can use to consult with UCSD's neonatal specialists on high-risk and emergency cases. The hope is to speed diagnoses and treatment plans for infants in distress, and possibly even reduce the need to transport fragile babies the 40 miles from Tri-City to UCSD.

To learn more:
- read the announcement