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An Outside the Box Approach to Patient Satisfaction

November 30, 2012
by Gabriel Perna
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Thanks to a feature I’m working on for an upcoming issue of Healthcare Informatics (keep your eyes peeled!), I’ve heard and read a lot of different ideas about how providers are trying to keep their patients happy and in the process get higher HCAHPS scores. Naturally, lots of ideas in this area seem run-of-the-mill and obvious. (Not there’s anything wrong with that; often it’s good to go with tried-and-true concepts in a somewhat gray area)

However, I was interested to read a recent article in Bloomberg News, about hospitals that are employing a somewhat unique solution to online ER reservations. In the world of dining out, it’s commonplace for a restaurant to have a spot on their website or an affiliation with a website like, where people can reserve a table before dinner.  In healthcare, ER wait times are one of the more talked about areas when it comes to reducing patient aggravation. This idea has been around for a few years and has begun to emerge more widely.

Bloomberg spoke to leaders of Tenet Healthcare, a large 49-hospital system in the southwest that uses the online ER check-in service at most of its hospitals. A spokesperson from another hospital quoted in the piece, The Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, says its popular online ER check-in service has already boosted patient satisfaction scores within a year of implementation.

While it seems that more hospitals are getting on board with this idea, a quick search on two online ER check-in vendors showed me that it’s not even close to being widespread. From where my office is located in New York City, there is only one hospital that I could reserve an ER spot online that is within reasonable driving distance. 

I’m interested to see if this trend catches on or if hospital leaders shy away. While the software seems cheap and easy to install, there may be concerns about fairness. The Bloomberg article interviewed a couple of dissenters, one of whom implied it discriminated against poor people who don’t have as easy access to technology. Another said it was hypocritical for the same hospitals that cry about having too many patients in the ER to offer this kind of service.

I’m interested to hear what our readers think of this trend in the comments below.