Archive for Friday, September 14, 2007

ER kiosks let patients check in, avoid long lines

September 14, 2007

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— An emergency room might be the last place you'd think would have do-it-yourself check-in.

But Parkland Memorial Hospital has three self-service computer kiosks, similar to those used by airport passengers and hotel guests. And so do a handful of other hospital ERs, where the long wait in line to register and explain symptoms can be grueling.

True emergency cases - gunshot or car crash victims with serious injuries - are still rushed in for treatment. But patients like Rickey Washington, a diabetic concerned about numbness in his hands and feet, find it fairly simple to sign in by computer.

"Once you look and see, it's kind of easy," said Washington, 44.

Besides offering patients more privacy, the kiosks should help nurses identify the most urgent cases.

Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in New Jersey plans to install check-in kiosks in its ER within the next couple months.

"Patients don't always know if their symptom is potentially bad or serious," said Dr. Marc Borenstein, chairman and residency program director for the department of emergency medicine at Beth Israel.

Parkland's administrators say patients have been spared the long check-in lines since the kiosks arrived. The hospital's ER handles about 300 cases a day.

"It's helping us find the people that we need to see right now," said Jennifer Hay, unit manager for the ER department.

Patients spend about eight minutes at the kiosks, using touchscreens to enter their name, age and other personal information. The computer shows the patient a list of ailments to choose from, like "pain" or "fever and/or chills" and a list of body parts to indicate where it hurts.

Previously, a nurse checked in patients and took their vital signs as lines at the ER got longer and frustration mounted.

"If it's getting people to be able to sit down and not be in a long line, then it's good," said Dr. Brian Keaton, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Once the patient's problem is entered into the system, it pops up on a screen accessible to the nurses. Those with chest pains, stroke symptoms or other worrisome complaints take priority.

But for patients with lesser complaints, even computer kiosks can't eliminate the "wait" from ER waiting rooms. It still often takes a couple of hours for a nurse to check their vital signs, and several more to see a doctor.

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