Healthcare News & Insights

Concierge services: How to provide a more pleasant ER experience

When it comes to hospital emergency rooms (ER), it’s no surprise to most executives that patient satisfaction scores aren’t stellar. People are sick, wait times can be long and patients’ lose their patience. So in this day and age of the Affordable Care Act, where patient satisfaction scores — including those in the ER — are being taken into account when it comes to reimbursement, there’s one thing hospitals can do to help themselves out: Offer concierge services.

One concierge service that is improving patient satisfaction scores is providing appointments.

Currently, ER online reservations are available at more than 100 hospitals across the U.S. Even Tenet Healthcare Corp., the third-largest U.S. hospital company, offers reservations to its less-serious ER patients. It’s a way to make the entire experience a little more palatable.

How it works

Instead of going straight to the ER, patients go online and make their reservation and then wait in the comfort of their own homes. No more sitting in uncomfortable chairs or sitting around people who are contagious. Now, patients just go to the the ER when it’s their appointment time and are seen right away.

However, patients do have to describe their illness/condition when making the reservation. If a person is having chest pain or some other serious health problem, they’re directed to call 911 or go directly to the hospital. The online booking system won’t allow patients with serious health issues to make an appointment.

Not only do appointments help ERs relieve congestion, but the idea is to provide patients and their families with a pleasant hospital experience, so if they ever need to return — for an emergency or an elective procedure — they’ll choose your facility.

At The Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, approximately 60% of its patients come through the ER, noted Cyndey Costello Busbee, in an interview with Bloomsburg.com. The facility began offering ER reservations about a year ago. And according to Busbee, it’s improved their patient satisfaction scores and efficiency.

Legal question

Some people feel that appointments are a great benefit to urgent care and primary care medicine, but they need to be kept out of emergency medicine for legal reasons.

Robert Bitterman, president and CEO of Harbor Springs, Michigan-based Health Law Consulting Group, Inc., said U.S. law prohibits hospitals from providing different treatments to patients for non-medical reasons. Therefore, because patients with appointments may be treated before people who’ve been waiting in the ER, it may be seen as preferential treatment.

How?

Poor people often don’t have access to smartphones and computers and wouldn’t have access to the online reservations.

Others argue that if you can make an appointment, then it’s not truly an emergency and you shouldn’t be going to an emergency room.

However, Chris Song, a spokesperson for InQuicker, a Nashville, TN-based company that offers concierge services to approximately 140 hospital emergency departments, said the service has undergone legal review and it doesn’t violate the U.S. statute.

Reason: As long as there isn’t a charge for the service, it’s OK, because the triage and “throughput process” are the same for patients whether they use the service or not. And care is always delivered based on the most urgent medical need.

Other concierge services

Some other services hospitals are using to boost patient satisfaction scores — and hopefully their bottom lines — are:

  • roadside bulletin boards that advertise how long a hospitals ER wait time is, and
  • mobile apps that offer real-time wait information.

These kinds of services are often welcomed by patients with busy lives. People see it as hospitals respecting their time and their comfort. And while you may not like it, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, patient-centered care is here to stay.

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