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Bleeder to Feeder: How an ED Turned Its Business Around

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, March 11, 2011

Methodist Charlton Medical Center in south Dallas is staffed for 225 beds but its emergency department volume is equal to hospitals two and three times larger, says its president, Jonathan Davis. That's why when the ED is having problems, the rest of the hospital's problems are even bigger.

The process challenges at Charlton's ED were numerous, but they all boiled down to a left-without-being-seen rate of 8-10% when Davis arrived 16 months ago.  

Since 1975, when Charlton was established as a "feeder" hospital, says Davis, it's seen more than its share of ED visits. That's a challenge in itself. The ED is a magnet for the uninsured, who know they can get care there even if they can't anywhere else.         

"We were effectively turning away 5,000-7,000 people a year," he says. "Everyone who left told 10 more people that you can't get in here."

In the past, hospital leaders perhaps didn't recognize the ED's central role as the single biggest source of admissions for the hospital. At Charlton, 65% of its admissions come from the ED. It's not that ED processes and efficiency were intentionally ignored in the past, but it's hard to get motivation for change when the perception is that of the people who are leaving perhaps half of them aren't going to generate any revenue. In the past several years though, that faulty reasoning has been turned on its head.

"The ER is the driver for operations," says Davis. Even without considering the patient care implications of a LWOBS rate at 10%, he says, "we were doing ourselves harm by not having efficient processes. So when I came in, that was the biggest priority."

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