Can Telemedicine Reduce ED Wait Times?

The study uses advanced telemedicine technology so that patient volume peaks can be managed by on-call physicians working from remote locations. When needed, an ED nurse would page the off-site physician who could then link to a telemedicine station. Using high-tech sound and video equipment, the physician could examine a patient’s eyes, ears, nose, throat, and skin and listen to heart and lung sounds. The physician could also order lab and imaging tests and review and document test results in the electronic health record. The onsite attending physician can then reassess the patient and confirm diagnostic findings and medical interventions.

The pilot study is expected to determine if telemedicine can decrease ED wait times and reduce the number of patients who leave the ED without being seen by a physician. If it proves successful, it could spearhead a significant change in how emergency care is delivered.

Constant Challenge

EDs face a continual challenge of matching around-the-clock staffing resources with demand for care. Other approaches to reducing ED wait times have included placing a physician in the triage area to expedite care. However, when patient volume is low, an underutilized physician is an unneeded expense. Telemedicine provides additional medical resources only when they are needed. Using a telemedicine physician to supplement the ED staff also avoids any possible delay caused by waiting for a local on-call physician to arrive.

UC San Diego Health System plans to activate the telemedicine model during the ED’s busiest times on Monday through Friday. Six rooms in the ED at UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest are already set up to accommodate telemedicine. The health system is hoping to improve overall satisfaction for patients and medical staff alike because ED overcrowding can increase patient risk and decrease patient satisfaction with emergency services

The study is another indicator of the growth of telemedicine. More than half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine. About 200 telemedicine networks with 3,500 service sites exist in the U.S. alone with one million Americans using remote cardiac monitors.

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