No visitors allowed. Why “sharing” is a crucial feature for the emergency room

David Wright
David WrightAugust 11th, 2020

“I get yelled at multiple times a day by family members” and “People are calling in [to the ER] constantly to figure out what’s happening with their loved ones” are stories we’ve been hearing from emergency room nurses almost daily.

With coronavirus still raging in the US, most emergency rooms have adopted a “no visitors allowed” policy in the ER. Exceptions are made for children who are typically allowed one parent only but, largely, family members are not able to be with patients during an emergency situation. Imagine not being with your partner / parent / friend after a heart attack, stroke, burst appendix, car accident or COVID-19 crash. A medical emergency is arguably the time when the comfort of loved ones matters most.

Yet it’s too risky to allow visitors, even masked, into the emergency room. Both for their sake, and for the sake of vulnerable patients who are nearby. Instead, family members are left in the dark. Has my mother been seen by a doctor? What’s going to happen next? Is she going to get to come home tonight, and when?

“Sharing” is one of the last things you might think about for something as private as medical information, but done right - secure, encrypted and HIPAA-compliant - it’s crucial to keeping everyone who needs this information in the loop.

Here’s how it works. When you arrive in the emergency room, you provide your mobile number, and are sent a link:

“See wait times, next-steps, instructions to help make your visit a bit quicker, building maps & hospital info at ”

That takes you into Vital Patient, our mobile web-app, which helps guide you through the emergency room. Vital sits on top of the hospital EHR (Epic, Cerner, AllScripts, etc.) monitoring events about a particular patient. Has a lab test been ordered? What time did they see a triage nurse? Has a doctor started any notes?

Some of these messages tick the application forward. It’s not unlike watching your Uber Eats order go from ordered, to confirmed, to picked-up, to delivered. Right now, we’re seeing 80%+ of patients with phone numbers use Vital in the emergency room to figure out what’s going to happen next, and most importantly, when.

If the patient wishes to share their status with friends or family, a special link is generated to send through any mechanism they’d like, along with a default message about where they are.

We considered a more complex form of permissions: perhaps it’s okay to show your spouse what kinds of tests have been ordered, but not your friends. We found this to be more complex than needed. What really matters most is not any detailed personal health information, but knowing that your loved one is “being taken care of”.

What we show is a summary of their visit: initial nurse assessment, assigned a bed/room, treatment started, seen by a doctor or advanced practitioner, test results received, conclusion reached:

With each, we provide the same wait time estimates we do for the patient. This is important, for example, if you are the “ride home” for a friend in the ER. Instead of waiting in your car for 12 hours, you can comfortably wait at home, and know with precision when you’re needed. Instead of calling the hospital every two hours to ask for a status update, you’re kept in the loop, automatically.

Of course the patient in the ER might be able to keep you in the loop with text messages or phone calls, but automating their process takes that burden off the patient to let them focus on their health, the instructions from doctors and nurses, and simply getting rest.

About Vital Patient

Vital Patient is available now to all US hospitals. Your hospitals’ brand colors and logo are used to make the experience seamless for patients. The non-integrated version is free to trial, and can be set up in about two hours (seriously). The EHR-integrated version requires a minimum ADT-feed, which your IT team can send to us within a few days.

Expect to see increased patient satisfaction scores (HCAPHS), decreased LWOBS and LOS through automatic communication, and increased follow-up visits scheduled (positive ROI). Expect your registration staff to thank you (some facilities report many days where no one asks about wait times), and a decreased burden on nursing staff. With our new sharing feature, expect fewer angry family members calling in wondering what exactly is going on. As a consequence, frontline staff can get back to what they do best: save lives and care for patients.

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