Purpose: Recent years have witnessed a fundamental change in the function of emergency departments (EDs). The emphasis of the ED shifts from triage to saving the lives of shock-trauma rooms equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. At the same time walk-in clinics are being set up to treat ambulatory type patients. Simultaneously ED overcrowding has become a common sight in many large urban hospitals. This paper recognises that in order to provide quality treatment to all these patient types, ED process operations have to be flexible and efficient. The paper aims to examine one major benchmark for measuring service quality--patient turnaround time, claiming that in order to provide the quality treatment to which EDs aspire, this time needs to be reduced.
Design/methodology/approach: This study starts by separating the process each patient type goes through when treated at the ED into unique components. Next, using a simple model, the impact each of these components has on the total patient turnaround time is determined. This in turn, identifies the components that need to be addressed if patient turnaround time is to be streamlined.
Findings: The model was tested using data that were gathered through a comprehensive time study in six major hospitals. The analysis reveals that waiting time comprises 51-63 per cent of total patient turnaround time in the ED. Its major components are: time away for an x-ray examination; waiting time for the first physician's examination; and waiting time for blood work.
Originality/value: The study covers several hospitals and analyses over 20,000 process components; as such the common findings may serve as guidelines to other hospitals when addressing this issue.