In an effort to reduce and even eliminate lengthy wait times, St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee has launched an online check-in system for its emergency room and urgent care clinics.
The program allows patients with non-life-threatening illnesses to schedule reservations remotely from smartphones, tablets and computers. Administrators say the program is the first of its kind in Minnesota and will relieve a major stress point for families.
“It can be frustrating to be stuck in a waiting room,” said Michael Morris, director of business development at St. Francis. “This allows people to make better use of their time and be more efficient.”
Patients who check in online are able to find the closest available locations and current wait times before filling out a short information sheet for symptoms. They may opt to receive text message alerts as the appointment approaches.
The system results in less time spent at the counter, officials say, and an overall acceleration in how quickly patients may see a doctor. In most cases they will receive care within 15 minutes of their scheduled appointment, though patients may still be bumped by someone with a more severe injury.
“A parent tending to a sick child at home doesn’t have to leave home until it’s close to their urgent care or ER reservation time,” St. Francis President Mike McMahan said in a statement, “and someone who’s sick at work doesn’t need to take time off to sit in an urgent care waiting room.”
The system doesn’t apply to life-threatening emergencies. If someone logs in and describes having chest pains, for example, the system will alert them to call 911 and will refuse to schedule an appointment.
In its first month, the system served 126 people with minor ailments like sore throats, cuts and breathing problems, Morris said, and garnered positive reviews.
A 2014 report from ProPublica, using data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, compiled a list of the average emergency room wait times for all 50 states and individual hospitals. St. Francis recorded median wait times of 13 minutes, about three minutes below the state average and 10 minutes faster than nationwide.