It’s been a successful first week for a pilot project Lakeridge Health officials call the first of its kind in Ontario.
Lakeridge has launched the project which attempts to predict the amount of time emergency department patients will have to wait before seeing a doctor at Bowmanville Hospital in Clarington.
Dr. Ilan Lenga, chief information officer with Lakeridge Health, says the system predicts individual wait times by considering several factors.
These include a patient’s health status and other factors such as the number of health professionals available, the number of people waiting in the ER and the urgency of their conditions, as well as the time of day, week and the season.
Lenga says wait times are predicted using artificial intelligence, which was developed by Lakeridge’s internal team in collaboration with Durham College’s A.I. Hub.
The process of predicting wait times begins with patient triage.
According to Lenga, patients with conditions that require immediate treatment won’t be given a prediction because it would be redundant.
After triage, patients are handed a printed page clearly indicating their personalized predicted wait time. The TV monitor in the waiting room provides an update on how accurate the personalized predictions have been recently.
Lenga says these displays will change to yellow if they are running 15 minutes behind predicted wait times, and red when delayed by 30 minutes.
“We knew early on this is something that’s subject to change. That’s the purpose of the display boards, to reveal to people in waiting rooms of how well we are doing,” he says.
In many other hospitals, emergency room patients are informed of the average waiting time.
However, Lenga says this type of information means very little to patients on a personal level and can increase frustration for those waiting in the ER instead of relaxing it.
Throughout the first week of the pilot, Lenga says they were achieving 90 per cent accuracy.
There are plans to roll out the pilot at Lakeridge’s other hospitals, but Lenga asserts it could be anywhere between weeks to months for this to happen.
“I don’t want to commit to a time, because it depends on performance,” he said.
As a smaller hospital, Lenga said Bowmanville was the right location to begin the program.
“Bowmanville has a lot of variability in wait times. If we have a much more variable location and keep that accuracy, it means the program is working better,” he explains.
Patients provide feedback on the pilot through Lakeridge’s existing patient experience survey.
Lenga shares an anecdotal story he heard in the first week.
Upon receiving her predicted wait time, a woman attending the ER was able to tell her spouse their children would need to be picked up from school.
Lenga says in the past, this patient likely would have to wait to make that phone call.
“Once she had that piece of paper in her hands, she already knew to make plans. Little things like that – we know will improve patient experience,” he says.