Flu brings increase in number of emergency room visits

Visits to the emergency room at Kingman Regional Medical Center are up six weeks into influenza season from a corresponding period one year ago, but not dramatically.

"There's nothing unusual about our patient volumes for cold and flu-like symptoms right now," said Brian Turney, chief executive officer at KRMC.

"Patient visits were up 3.7 percent in October over the same month last year.

The numbers are up 5.7 percent for July, August, September and October over the same period last year."

In a story appearing in the Miner last Thursday, Turney said waiting room times from the time of arrival to release and being sent home had risen from 2 hours, 45 minutes in January 2002 to a current time of 3 hours, 35 minutes.

But that figure did not distinguish only people going to the ER with flu-like symptoms and represented average times for all patients.

Release times from the ER into a hospital bed for admits also rose for the same time period from 5 hours to 6 hours, 30 minutes.

Those increased waiting times are largely responsible for hospital administration deciding not to renew its contract with the Phoenix Emergency Group, which has staffed the ER with doctors since 1989.

Team Health, a national doctors group, will be the new provider of physicians at KRMC beginning Jan.

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Turney said Tuesday he expects a 3-year contract with the group to be signed by the end of November.

"There are a combination of things we need to focus on (in shortening ER waiting times)," Turney said.

"Issues we've identified include improving response time in radiology reads, making sure lab tests are done as quickly as possible, getting people up on the floors more rapidly and making sure the Fast Track program is functioning properly."

There are 18 beds in the emergency room.

Even if four of them hold people waiting to be admitted, the other 14 beds should move patients in and out faster, Turney said.

"Based on 30,000 patient visits per year an emergency room should have 15 beds according to industry averages," he said.

"From a bed standpoint we now have more than our volume requires, so we have a little capacity to hold patients, and that's what is happening.

"But it doesn't mean other parts of the system can't turn as quickly as possible."

Hospital officials have held some preliminary discussions on ways to reduce waiting times with Team Health.

One other factor expected to significantly improve the picture is electronic documentation to be implemented early next year.

"Once physicians and nurses are trained on the electronic system it will reduce the amount of time they now spend on documentation," Turney said.

"The system will permit better tracking of patients.

We'll know how long they've been there and get real time monitoring as far as tests ordered and which ones are back.

"All of the information will be available on monitors to any provider, whether a physician or nurse.

Hospitals using such systems have found them helpful."

Janet Gode, director of emergency room services at KRMC, said waiting times in the ER are based on numerous factors that include the acuity of symptoms presented by a patient, bed availability and whether a patient must be held in the ER while awaiting a bed to open on one of the floors for an admission.

"Waiting times this October have not been as bad as last year (for October)," Gode said.

"That's just my impression.

"We'll be able to track waiting times come February once we get a computerized charting and tracking system that we've excited about."