Healthcare News & Insights

EHRs doubled emergency patients’ wait times, hospital says

This hospital recently saw a huge spike in ER patients’ wait times. The culprit: the facility’s new electronic health record system. 

Columbus Regional Hospital in Columbus, IN, saw an undesired result after it installed a new electronic health record (EHR) system earlier this summer. When the system was installed in late June, the average length of time it took to treat patients in the hospital’s emergency department nearly doubled.

For example, before the switch, the length of stay for patients requiring acute care was well below the national average at two hours and 35 minutes. After the switch to electronic health records, that number jumped to four hours and 13 minutes, the Indianapolis Star reports.

The reason for the jump: the steep learning curve required to get used to the new system. Staff could move quickly with the paper system they were used to, but had to slow down at first while using EHRs.

After people started getting used to the new system, wait times decreased, hospital officials said. However, times were still longer than before the switch, with acute care stays averaging three hours and ten minutes.

What can healthcare organizations do to avoid significant disruptions during a switch to electronic health records? Here are some of the steps Columbus has taken to improve patient wait times:

  • Schedule additional staff — Having more employees on hand can help ease a painful EHR transition. Columbus has brought in additional nursing staff temporarily until lengths of stay return to pre-EHR numbers.
  • Tweak the system — The hospital’s physician and nursing leadership is also looking at the EHR system to discover issues that hamper efficiency and will make any necessary tweaks.
  • Educate patients — Columbus has given all patients a handout explaining the system and the benefits of electronic health records, and information about the system has been displayed on electronic screens in the facility. Though some patients have complained because of the longer wait times, officials said most have been understanding.

Another key for a successful EHR transition: staff training. Investing extra time to train doctors, nurses and other staff before a new system is installed can save countless hours down the road — and could help avoid issues that threaten patient safety.

Read our earlier post to learn five keys for EHR training.

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