Long waiting times at hospital emergency departments are a well-known pain point for patients and government ministers alike, but a new app specifically built to tell people how long they’ll spend in line waiting to be seen in Western Australia’s hospitals could soon change all that – and help health authorities better load-balance demand as well.
As the West contemplates one of the weakest state Budgets in recent memory, the state government is turning to open entry innovation competitions harnessing public data to come up with low cost solutions that can make a big difference to the public without breaking the bank.
In the case of the West’s public emergency rooms, the state has launched and is heavily plugging a new app known as WA ED (not to be confused with a Web Attack and Exploitation Distro) that lets people see, compare and contrast the time they’ll spend in a queue, as well as estimating the driving time.
The thinking behind putting the WA ED app and timely waiting data into the public domain is that, given an informed choice, people will be prepared to drive a little further to be seen more quickly, thereby reducing pressure on hospitals that are already stretched to capacity.
The consequences of overcrowded emergency department are well documented. Because cases are necessarily dealt with based on the seriousness of a patient’s condition, less seriously ill people often have to wait for hours putting a costly strain on limited resources.
And because it’s essentially impossible for public hospitals to turn people away, the challenge of how to best to guide or steer people to hospitals that can better cope with the demand will always be a delicate one.
The West’s Health Minister, John Day, believes the WA ED app will come into its own as Perth prepares for healthcare’s peak season – winter.
“I envisage this becoming a must-have for families and individuals because it tells you how long you’ll take to get to an ED and how many people are in the queue,” Mr Day said.
“By giving ED options, it also allows people to make informed decisions about whether to attend a hospital or use other health centres such as after-hours clinics. It will help spread ED patient load across the hospital system as well.”
It will also very likely save the government substantial money while providing better service, the holy grail of healthcare management – assuming it’s successful.
That’s because people will self-direct themselves to less busy facilities, reducing the need for staff to be put onto more expensive overtime rates.
And that’s before the contentious practice of ‘parking’ people on wards, or where people are sometimes admitted overnight as a precaution until they can be seen by an appropriate clinician, is taken into account.
Many doctors and nurses are known to be ambivalent about defaulting to admissions at super busy times, wary that the trend is more driven by the need to hit performance targets as opposed to what the optimal health outcome will be – a cycle that ups the cost of healthcare.
For ministers seeking user friendly cost improvements to the electorally hyper-sensitive portfolio, success has many fathers.
“This is innovation in action. Using innovative technology solutions like this can make a dramatic difference and the Government is proud to be at the forefront of delivering these outcomes,” said WA Finance Minister Bill Marmion.
“This app is simple, accessible and responsive, and it was invented right here,” he said.
The inventors and coders behind the app are acquisitive Australian software and solutions house Readify, who, according to reports fired-up the software free of charge.
If cutting hospital queues and saving public money doesn’t get you noticed by potential clients, nothing will.
We’d like to see a similar app developed for primary care that tells parents how long they’ll spend in a GP’s waiting room.
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