Lake Forest Hospital's emergency room has launched an online check-in system for patients with nonlife-threatening illnesses.
Beginning July 1, patients were able to complete online forms to start the check-in process and let ER staff know when to expect them. The online check-in started at its related Northwestern Grayslake Emergency Center last summer, said spokeswoman Kelly Klopp.
The triaged-based protocol of the emergency room always has precedence, so if a patient has checked-in online and arrives at the ER at the confirmed time, but another patient with more critical needs comes in at the same time, the patient with the more critical need must be treated first, Klopp said.
"However, if a patient has reserved a time online and comes to the ER at the same time that a patient with the same condition presents, the person who has checked-in online would be seen first," Klopp said. "The person who checked-in online has been waiting at home instead of the ER waiting room."
Lake Forest Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine, is among a growing number of hospitals to provide online check-in or other mobile information about wait times in the ERs. Such check-in may save patients from sitting too long in a waiting room and lets them offer their information to medical staff in advance. Patients also can get a time frame on when they could get medical attention.
For example, Edward Hospital, in Naperville and Plainfield, offers wait times via text and online, and an app for iPhones. The system offers current wait times. But so far, Edward doesn't offer online check-in, said spokesman Keith Hartenberger.
Arlington Heights-based Alexian Brothers Health System -- which includes Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village and St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates -- started online appointment registration for the ER and the immediate care centers in late 2012. The health system then used online appointment registration for a group of primary care physicians a year later. It added online appointment registration for laboratory visits in May.
Of the nearly 10,000 scheduled visits since the system went live, nearly half have been for the seven immediate care sites, followed by the two ERs, primary care physicians and, finally, the laboratory. The immediate care sites average about 240 registrations per month, said Andrew J. Snyder, Alexian vice president of marketing.
In general, such check-ins offer a list of wait times in the ER, a menu of times to select for your arrival, your information and reason for the visit.
At Lake Forest, patients can go to www.lfh.org/express and use the online form. A confirmation email is sent to the patient, who can then arrive at the estimated time for treatment. There is no cost to use the service, hospital officials said.
The advance online check-in is primarily used by people with the flu, fever, colds; sinus infections and urinary tract infections; strains and sprains; poison ivy, animal and bug bites; rashes and sunburns, the hospital has found.
In general, filling out an online form won't put you at the front of the line once you arrive at an ER, said Mark Reiter, president of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The AAEM, and other emergency medical associations, do not yet track how many hospitals offer online check-in or whether it provides any more efficiency in the ER experience for patients.
"It essentially lets the emergency room know that you are coming and to share some information up front about your chief complaint," Reiter said. "It doesn't move you up the queue any faster. All emergency rooms in the country have to follow federal law that says patients need to be treated equally and in a fair process and in a timely manner."
Basically, online check-in is another tool for tech-savvy patients, he noted.
"It's just another way to reach out to patients," Reiter said.
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