Atlanta, GA -- (SBWIRE) -- 11/09/2012 -- Just like OpenTable gives diners the ability to make online reservations at a restaurant, ER Express allows patients to reserve an appointment in the emergency room.
ER Express, backed by a private equity firm, is using technology to address a health-care problem: major congestion in the ER, resulting in long wait times - four hours on average. Online reservations means those patients can wait a couple of hours in the comfort of their home, instead of in a germ-filled waiting room when the ER is at its busiest.
For hospitals, online patient scheduling reduces congestion and improves ER efficiency. The convenience of online scheduling also drives patients to the ER - a gateway to more lucrative inpatient and follow-up care.
ERs are often the go-to health-care destination for middle-of-the-night ear infections or minor injuries. They are also used frequently by the uninsured and underinsured, since hospitals dont turn ER patients away.
"About 80 percent of people who come to the emergency department can safely wait a couple of hours to be seen," said Dr. Boykin Robinson, emergency department medical director at WellStar Cobb Hospital, which uses ER Express to schedule reservations. "It's not all life and death."
ER Express offers patients convenience. Rather than wait in an ER, patients can wait at home, or at a more comfortable location.
An emergency room is not the most comfortable place to be waiting around, Robinson said.
"If you don't feel good," he said, "laying on your couch for two hours is better than sitting upright in an ER waiting room with a bunch of sick people."
In an emergency department, low-priority cases such as an ear infection or sprained ankle are dealt with after patients suffering gunshot wounds, heart attacks or strokes, said Sahil Patel, ER Express executive vice president.
"You're going to sit there for two to three hours," Patel said. "When you have a 2-year-old screaming at 5 a.m., going to sit in a hospital ER for two hours is a miserable experience."
An ER reservation system can help hospitals reduce congestion and better manage patient traffic in an otherwise very busy avenue of care.
"ERs, minute-to-minute, are very chaotic," Patel said. "But over the course of the day, there are predictable trends."
For example, ERs tend to be less busy at 10 a.m., and extremely busy from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Patel said.
Hospitals can manage ER traffic better by shutting off, or reducing the number of available reservations during busy times.
"So, they are not getting a reservation at, say 8 p.m., on a Friday night when there are already 30 people in the emergency room," Patel said.
Having patients wait at home, instead of in an already crowded ER, frees up the medical staff to focus on patient care, Robinson said.
"We're open 24/7," he said. "So, the more we can spread patient traffic out, the better it is for us."
For hospitals, the convenience of ER Express helps drive patients into the emergency room - which is typically a gateway to more lucrative inpatient admissions and follow-up care.
"We are delivering patients to the front door of the hospital," Patel said. "If you get a more convenient experience with WellStar, you're going to go back there not just for emergency care, but other inpatient and outpatient services."
Since launching in November 2011, ER Express has about 20 hospitals in eight states using its service. The company, which did not disclose revenue, plans to break even next year.
ER Express charges hospitals a monthly subscription fee for access to the reservation system, and has made "several thousand reservations," Patel said. A good-sized hospital will see about 50 reservations a week, he said.
ER Express is majority-owned by ValorBridge Partners LLC, an Atlanta-based private equity firm that also controls ApolloMD, a physician practice that provides emergency medicine, anesthesia and radiology services to hospitals.
For now, ER Express has not made a dent in WellStar Cobb's ER traffic.
The hospital gets five or six reservations a day - a fraction of the 250-plus daily visits the ER sees.
WellStar is evaluating the service for its remaining three hospital ERs and six urgent care centers.
About ER Express
Headquartered in Atlanta, GA, ER Express is a privately held company that allows patients to compare nearby hospitals and bypass a hospital's ER waiting room through an online reservation system. ER Express was founded by an emergency medicine group to provide patients with an alternative to the crowded ER waiting room. Over the last decade, the number of visits to emergency departments has increased by 32% and is expected to double over the next ten years. Concurrently, the number of Emergency Departments has decreased by 4.6%, leading to average wait times of nearly four hours. To learn more about ER Express, please visit: http://www.erexpress.com