PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Officials at The Aroostook Medical Center have revamped the emergency room in light of customer feedback in order to lessen wait times and improve other aspects of the department.

Daryl Boucher, director of emergency services, said the emergency department team studied results received “repeatedly” on customer satisfaction surveys, in which respondents said wait times for those using the ER for medical problems that are not life threatening were too long.

“We have always done an excellent job of caring for critically ill patients, but for those with less serious medical concerns, the experience has not been consistently good,” he said recently. “In response, we’ve made changes that impact almost every area of the department, and more improvements are in the works.”

The changes came about after David Mann, a nationally recognized expert on improving performance in health care and other industries, spent three days in the emergency department, helping the team identify more than 20 opportunities to improve efficiency. The team narrowed the list to a few key priorities and immediately began making changes.

“What the team discovered is that most of the problems that caused patients to spend long periods of time in our emergency department were the result of flow through the department,” said Boucher. “In order to fix this, we had to rethink how we interact with the patient at each stage of the visit. The changes we made involve lots of little things, a few big ones.”

The department opted to expand the availability of family nurse practitioners and physician assistants during the busiest times of the day.
The department is now staffed with an extra provider during the day to handle any medical concerns that are not considered emergencies.

Other changes also have been made to decrease wait times and enhance customers’ experience, including providing certain medical tests right in the emergency department instead of sending samples to the hospital laboratory for analysis. Boucher said that will allow providers to get results in the department more quickly.

These changes, combined with a series of other small improvements, are making a difference. The time it took to get a patient from the department entrance to an exam room decreased by 38 percent in the weeks after the improvements were made, Boucher said. The total amount of time patients spent in the department has decreased by 15 percent, and customer satisfaction scores have improved.

At the same time, Boucher said the most convenient option for less serious medical concerns during the daytime hours is the Walk-In Care Clinic on North Street, which is faster and more affordable.

“But we realize that the clinic isn’t always open, and for some people, it simply isn’t the best option,” he said. “The changes we have made in the emergency department ensure that when people need nonemergency medical care, there is a timely option available. But we encourage people to use Walk-In Care when appropriate.”

Later this summer or in early fall, a renovation project will reconfigure and expand the department. The renovations will create more storage space and allow the team to improve how the department’s exam rooms are used.

When the renovations are complete, providers will be able to use any open exam room to diagnose and treat any illness. The changes will allow blocks of rooms to be assigned to nurses, which will further improve efficiency and decrease wait times. The registration process will be streamlined, allowing patients to register in the exam room instead of at the waiting room desk.