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System halves wait time for hospital's ER

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Patients’ lengths of stay in Columbus Regional Hospital’s emergency room continued to shorten this fall as the hospital’s medical staff and computer personnel became more comfortable using a new electronic records system designed to make care and record-keeping more efficient.

Since mid-September, the average length of time a patient spends in the ER has reduced by more than two hours. Service times are better today than they were in the spring, before the hospital’s emergency department switched to its new system.

The latest ratings show significant improvement since the week of June 24 when the new electronic system of gathering patient information took effect.

In the first seven days, Columbus Regional saw the time it took to care for patients arriving in the ER with various ailments soar to between four and five hours, even for people with relatively minor medical complaints. Now, those times have been trimmed by more than 50 percent both for so-called “fast-track” patients and acute patients with more serious problems.

Here are the numbers:

The week of June 24, on average it took 4 hours, 13 minutes to treat acute patients; and 4 hours, 41 minutes to treat fast-track patients with minor ailments.

Since September, the comparable times are 2 hours, 24 minutes for acute patients; and 1 hour, 57 minutes for fast-track patients.

“Our staff is much more comfortable on the computer and with the software,” said Carolyn O’Neal, Columbus Regional’s director of nursing.

Jason Palmer, emergency department nurse manager, said personnel are also more familiar with how to enter data in fields set up to log things such as a patient’s medical history, allergies and the medications they take.

Shortcut keystrokes for common diseases (diabetes, hypertension and others) have been set up to speed data entry and similar tweaks have been established to enter common medications in patients’ files.

“We have worked to streamline the system, and get certain things built in,” Palmer said. The streamlined approach leads to improved patient safety as well, officials said, because a patient’s wristband can be coded to automatically alert nurses if a patient would have an allergic reaction to a particular medicine about to be administered.

Hospital staffers scan the wrist band — and the medicine — before giving a drug to a patient, O’Neal said, adding that the electronic record-keeping system helps eliminate human error. Before electronic records, the hospital used a paper system to record and store patient information.

The vast majority of visits to the emergency department involve treatment without the patient ever having to be admitted to a hospital room. In fact, only 12 percent to 15 percent of ER visits lead to a patient being admitted to the hospital, O’Neal said.

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