GREENFIELD — Patients seeking treatment at the emergency room should be treated and out the door more quickly under a pilot program at Hancock Regional Hospital that seeks to reduce wait times.

A team of doctors and staff worked together to create Split Flow, which categorizes patients based on the severity of their needs; the process moves those who have already been seen by a doctor to a secondary waiting area until their test results come back, freeing up beds in the hospital’s 18 exam rooms for patients with traumatic injuries or serious illnesses.

Patients with relatively minor ailments will receive an exam, undergo any blood tests, scans or X-rays before being taken to an adjacent waiting area.

In the last month since the program started, the total time patients spend in the ER has decreased by about 30 minutes — from about three hours to two and a half, officials said.

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Nursing staff members who passed along patient concerns about the wait time in the emergency department prompted hospital officials to form a group to explore options to make the ER more efficient, chief operating officer Rob Matt told the hospital’s board of directors at last month’s meeting.

The hospital’s emergency department sees about 70 patients a day and about 25,000 per year, said Stephanie Long, Hospital emergency department director. Staff members recognized that the traditional patient intake process, in which those with minor injuries or sicknesses had to wait longer, could be uncomfortable for those patients, Long said.

According to the U.S. government’s Medicare website, patients who visited Hancock Regional under the old system waited an average of 25 minutes before being seen by a healthcare professional, which is in line with the 20-minute state average.

But from start to finish, a local emergency room visit lasted about three hours, nearly an hour longer than the Indiana hospital average.

Now, visit times are down to about two and a half hours, officials said.

That’s welcome news to patients, who say shorter wait times will make an unpleasant experience a little easier.

Michelle Gunn of Greenfield recently went to the emergency department after she sprained her ankle. Because she had a minor injury, she waited almost four hours while doctors tended to patients with more serious problems. Under the new system, people like Gunn will be seen more quickly.

“They’re trying to do better for the patients,” she said. “I appreciate they see it’s an issue.”

The Split Flow program operates on the premise that if a person walks into the emergency department, they probably feel well enough to wait in a chair and don’t require a hospital bed, said Taryn Papandria, the emergency department’s medical director.

The secondary waiting room where patients with minor ailments will go after their initial exam was re-purposed from a meeting room.

The team analyzed the hospital’s data and sought expert advice while developing the Split Flow program. Once team members had determined which patients qualify for the fast-track process, they worked to educate doctors, nurses and staff about the changes to the intake process, said Jeff Kruzil, the hospital’s performance improvement specialist.

Response to the changes has been positive, Kruzil said; the biggest challenge is trying to reduce wait time consistently when the emergency department’s patient load is unpredictable, and care for ER visitors depends on other departments, from imaging to surgery, he said.

The process to increase efficiency is ongoing, he added; staff members, for example, have requested small changes they believe will help, including relocating computers or phones to be nearer to patient rooms, Long said.

“We have an obligation to the community to continually improve,” Long said. “We want to continue to provide quality care to our patients, and so we’re always looking for areas to improve.”

Pull Quote

“We have an obligation to the community to continually improve,” said Stephanie Long, emergency department director. “We want to continue to provide quality care to our patients, and so we’re always looking for areas to improve.”

By the numbers

70: Patients per day seen in the Hancock Regional Hospital emergency department

25,000: Patients seen per year

18: exam rooms in the emergency department

25: minutes patients wait before seeing a healthcare professional

##: how many minutes patients wait now that Split Flow is implemented

2.5 hours: How long an ER visit takes from start to finish

3 hours: how long it took before Split Flow

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.