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Emerg Med J. 2002 January; 19(1): 28–30.
PMCID: PMC1725754

The effect of a separate stream for minor injuries on accident and emergency department waiting times

Abstract

Introduction: To decrease waiting times within accident and emergency (A&E) departments, various initiatives have been suggested including the use of a separate stream of care for minor injuries ("fast track"). This study aimed to assess whether a separate stream of minor injuries care in a UK A&E department decreases the waiting time, without delaying the care of those with more serious injury.

Intervention: A doctor saw any ambulant patients with injuries not requiring an examination couch or an urgent intervention. Any patients requiring further treatment were returned to the sub-wait area until a nurse could see them in another cubicle.

Method: Data were retrospectively extracted from the routine hospital information systems for all patients attending the A&E department for five weeks before the institution of the separate stream system and for five weeks after.

Results: 13 918 new patients were seen during the 10 week study period; 7117 (51.1%) in the first five week period and 6801 (49.9%) in the second five week period when a separate stream was operational. Recorded time to see a doctor ranged from 0–850 minutes. Comparison of the two five week periods demonstrated that the proportion of patients waiting less than 30 and less than 60 minutes both improved (p<0.0001). The relative risk of waiting more than one hour decreased by 32%. The improvements in waiting times were not at the expense of patients with more urgent needs.

Conclusions: The introduction of a separate stream for minor injuries can produce an improvement in the number of trauma patients waiting over an hour of about 30%. If this is associated with an increase in consultant presence on the shop floor it may be possible to achieve a 50% improvement. It is recommended that departments use a separate stream for minor injuries to decrease the number of patients enduring long waits in A&E departments.


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