Nobody has a good time at the emergency room. And time after time, one of the mosts consistent complaints ER patients have had is the long wait to see a doctor. Now, there's a new trend that is spreading to hospitals nationwide: waiting for you emergency room visit at home.
Locally, Sacred Heart Medical group offers the service at their locations around the region. Dr. Timothy Rak, the Medical Director and Chair of the Emergency Department at Sacred Heart Medical Group says the system that allows patients to wait for emergency room care at home was put into place at Sacred Heart about 8 months ago. The system used by Sacred Heart is operated by a company called In Quicker. It's a national company that is being used by over 150 hospitals, urgent care centers and doctor's offices around the country, including hospitals in Panama city and Tallahassee. Rak says In Quicker has had good results around the country with their system so "why reinvent the wheel?"
Sacred Heart is not the only local hospital group that offers the option of waiting at home for emergency room care. Baptist Health Care has a similar system in place for their hospitals in Pensacola and Gulf Breeze. They also use a national firm to run their system called ER Express. Sahil Patel is the President of ER Express. He likens his business model to those used in the restaurant industry where people can call ahead for a reservation. He also points out that just because someone has a time set aside for them at the ER, that doesn't mean they get priority over critical or life threatening cases. He says "the sickest people in an ER setting will always be seen first regardless of what order they arrive in. That's the law of the land first of all and it's the right thing to do."
One of the major issues in health care in the country today is people using the ER for primary care and there were fears that this system would encourage more patients to take that route. Patel says nationally, studies show that's not the case. He also says the system helps ease overcrowding in the ER by allowing patients to come in at a less busy time. Dr. Rak added that it's not always easy to get into a primary care physician's office for a sore throat or sprained ankle and while that may not be an emergency, "it's an emergency to you."
Not all hospitals are using outside companies to design and operate these systems. Novant Health in North Carolina is one that used in house IT people to custom design a local system, saying it gives them more flexibility and control and, more importantly, they own the code.
No matter which system is in use everyone we spoke to agreed that the wait at home model should not be used if you are in a life threatening situation such as suspected stroke or heart attack or severe trauma. In that case get to the ER as soon as possible!