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Diagnostic center makes caring for patients easier

March 09, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Washington County Hospital's Emergency Department is seeing 5,500 to 6,000 patients a month, according to its director, who said the number of emergency patients who need lengthy testing, observation or treatment is "well over 100 a month."

Dr. Tom Gilbert, director of emergency services, said the department's new Rapid Diagnostic Center will make caring for those patients easier - both for them and for the staff - while freeing up space in the main emergency room.

The center, comprising five observation rooms surrounding a nursing station, accepted its first patients Thursday. In its first weekend of operation, the center accommodated more than five patients a day, emergency staff said. On Monday morning, three of the five observation rooms were occupied.

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"I doubt very seriously these beds will ever be empty," Gilbert said.

Patients who come to the hospital with chest pains, asthma problems or other problems that require testing or medication that takes a while to kick in are candidates for the center, Gilbert said.

There, such patients can be treated away from the noise and distractions of the emergency room.

Most of them are patients who come in with what Gilbert called "undefined chest pains," the source of which can't be determined in a two-hour emergency room visit, but shouldn't require admission to the hospital, he said.

That was the case for Deborah Kline, who went to the hospital at about 4:30 a.m. Monday with chest pains. "They told me if I had gone to the ER I would've had to wait in the hall," she said. "This is great. They've taken excellent care of me."

Kline said the center's quiet atmosphere was particularly important for patients with chest pains because "it relaxes you more."

Construction on the center began last October and was projected to cost $250,000. It included renovation of the pre-admission testing area on the hospital's first floor.

When completed last week, the project came in under budget, costing about $205,000, hospital spokeswoman Kelly Redmond said.

Each room is outfitted similarly to regular hospital rooms, only a bit smaller. One of the rooms is a little larger than the others and will be used for pediatric patients whose parents need to stay with them, said Lou Ann Myers, a nursing manager for the emergency department.

The hospital has been using the rapid diagnostic concept for more than a year, Gilbert said, but did not have a permanent center for it until now.

Of the patients treated in the center, only about 10 percent need to be admitted or transferred to another facility, Gilbert said. The rest are able to go home pretty quickly - usually within 24 hours.

Although rapid diagnostic centers are a fairly new concept in the United States, dating to the 1980s, Gilbert said all European hospitals have such observation units. By contrast, he said about 40 percent of American hospitals have them.

So far, the new unit has gotten rave reviews, Myers said. "I was going through customer surveys this morning, and they all have positive comments," she said.

"The first day was a little confusing, but all in all I think it's going well."

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