Hospitals are making greater use of new technologies to improve emergency department throughput. Digital registration kiosks and bedside registration systems streamline the process, allowing patients to be treated more quickly. Electronic patient tracking boards can reduce wait times and improve turnover by helping caregivers to monitor information critical to patient flow.

One hospital, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, uses patient flow software that monitors available beds by specialty, automating a process previously performed by three separate nurses who would walk the hospital carrying clipboards and searching out empty beds, says Edward Ward, M.D., assistant chief medical officer and vice chair of the Rush department of emergency medicine. Getting patients who need beds into them sooner frees up available space in the ED and decreases wait times. The hospital no longer has patients in hallways, waiting for rooms — a situation Ward describes as “a patient satisfaction killer” — and it is rare for the hospital to go on bypass.

The software, from TeleTracking Technologies Inc., Pittsburgh, includes a bed prioritization feature — dubbed the Three Bed Ahead tool — that Rush’s charge nurses say also helps to improve relationships and communication across departments. Camille Brownlee, a Rush medical center inpatient nurse, says there used to be much more tension between nurses on her floor and those in the ED.

Moreover, under the previous system, Brownlee says, “whenever a page was received regarding a new patient coming from the emergency room, there were about three phone calls that had to be made — to bed management, to the clerk, to the emergency room. Now, really the only phone call is to the emergency room.”

That makes for a more collaborative culture. “All the different disciplines are working together, rather than separately,” Brownlee says.

Staff now take 16 percent less time to place a patient into the general medicine unit from the ED than they did in November 2013, and ED nurses take 37 percent less time to give patient reports to inpatient unit nurses.