If you find your doctor checking his smartphone, don’t feel neglected — it may be a way for you to leave the hospital sooner.
A new study appearing in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that emergency department physicians who received the results of a critical lab test on their smartphone were able to share those results with patients faster and ultimately make a quicker determination on the patient’s plan of care.
For patients, that meant less waiting time. On average, patients whose doctors received the smartphone notifications left the hospital 26 minutes faster than patients whose physicians had to check for lab results on the hospital’s electronic health record (EHR) system.
“For patients waiting for lab results, 26 minutes is significant, even if the smartphone process did not shorten overall length of stay significantly,” said study author Dr. Aikta Verma of the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada.
The significance of the near-half-hour gain comes during the waiting-game time in the emergency room (ER), when a patient is unsure of his or her care plan.
“For many patients, waiting for lab results that determine if they stay in the hospital or go home is the hardest part of the ER visit,” said Verma.
Critical for Heart Care
The current study assessed patients who arrived at the ER with a complaint of chest pain, which is often a precursor to a heart attack. In a typical clinical scenario, the emergency physician would call for an assessment of troponin levels in a patient’s blood. If the patient’s levels are high, a heart attack might be imminent.
The researchers assessed more than 1,500 patients who met these parameters, and had a portion of the physicians involved in the ER visits tap into the smartphone-based technology to gain lab results.
For patients whose physicians used smartphones, the average time between the doctor viewing the results and the patient’s discharge was 68.5 minutes. For patients on the traditional EHR system, that time was over 94 minutes.
“Physicians who received troponin results on their smartphones made the decision to discharge their patients with chest pain a median of 26 minutes faster than physicians without troponin push-alert notifications,” said Verma.
The smartphone system also reduced the total amount of time a patient spent in the ER, cutting the total from 345 minutes to 328 minutes on average.
The researchers believe that tapping into versatile technology such as smartphones has application far beyond heart care.
“Our study demonstrated reduced time to discharge decision for chest pain patients by pushing troponin results to smartphones,” said Verma. “There are many other results that could also be pushed: other critical lab results, radiology reports, vital signs, etc.”
While those clinical measures hold promise, the current study is already changing the way emergency physicians should approach heart care, advises Verma.
“For now, we recommend the use of the push-alert notification system to improve flow through the emergency department for chest pain patients,” she said.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.