Background: The increasing demand for acute care and restructuring of hospitals resulting in emergency department (ED) closures and fewer inpatient beds are reasons to improve ED efficiency. The approach towards the patient care process varies among doctors. The objective of this study was to determine variations in the patient care process and patient flow among emergency physicians (EP's) and internists at the ED of Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC), the Netherlands.
Methods: An observational instrument was developed during a pilot study at the LUMC ED, following observations of activities performed by EP's and internists. The instrument divides all different types of activities a clinician can perform on the ED into eight categories. Using the observational instrument, their activities were observed and registered for 10 separate days. Primary outcomes were defined as the time spend on the eight separate activity categories, the total length of stay (LOS) and the number of patients seen during an interval. Secondary outcomes were general observations of working routine features that determine patient flow at the ED. The obtained data were analyzed into SPSS.
Results: Ten doctors were observed during a total of ± 36 hours in which 42 patients were seen. Although EP's were observed for a shorter period of time than internists (13:48 vs. 22:10 hrs, -38%), they saw more patients (26 vs. 16, +62%). EP's tended to spend a higher proportion of their time on patient contact than internists (27.2% vs. 17.3%, p = 0.06). Both groups dedicated the highest proportion of their time to documentation (31.5% and 33.4%, p = 0.75) and had little communication with ED nurses (3.7% and 2.4% p = 0.57). The average LOS of internal patients was higher than that of EP's patients (5.25 ± sd 1:33 and 2.26 ± sd 1:32 hours). Internists occupied more treatment rooms at the same time (2.41 vs. 2.08, p < 0.00) and followed a more sequential working routine.
Conclusions: This paper describes the determination of variations in the ED care process and patient flow among EP's and internists by an observational instrument. A pilot study with the instrument showed variations in the patient care process and patient flow among the two groups at the LUMC ED.