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An In-house Training Program and Mobile Data Helps to Reduce Wait Time at Lowell General Hospital

After the pandemic, hospitals and medical centers started losing reliable staff, directly impacting wait times of primary care facilities and treatments in Greater Boston. Matt Reid, the director of clinical operations for Inpatient Services at Lowell General Hospital, said that the patient flow gets better with the help of efficiently trained nurses and electronic medical records.


Hospitals are still facing staffing shortages after COVID, with 28% of patients countrywide saying that they seldom or never get a same-day response from their doctors. Merritt Hawkins also found the average wait time for scheduling a new patient physician appointment in 15 major metropolitan areas has increased by 8% since 2017.  

Local hospitals in Greater Boston have taken action however: Lowell General has implemented a 12-14 week training program aimed at preparing nurses and their staff to carry out medical tasks safely, timely and efficiently. Reid believes that this alone may be a direct solution to less waiting time at the hospital as well as the use of reliable electronic data. 


“Our orientations are kind of broken down a little bit differently depending on where they're located, we sort of look at it as if somebody is coming with us with, like a kind of individualizing bare bones orientation. We really do try to take an individualized approach to see what individuals truly need,” said Reid. “We invest a lot of time and energy and effort into things like electronic medical records, things of that nature, like specialized training just for those elements. So people can be more efficient.”


Chloe Dunn, a nurse on a surgical unit at Tufts Medicine of Lowell General Hospital praised the training program that she and her colleagues went through, explaining, "Every candidate gets a 12-14 week orientation to their floor of hire where they are paired with an experienced nurse and are taught all that they need to know. From critical thinking skills, time management and all the basic nursing care. The new grad also meets in a larger group in the classroom setting where they discuss skills, policies, communication skills and the list goes on,” she said.


"I think things are done more efficiently. Well-trained staff is more attentive," Dunn said. She notes that smaller tasks are taken care of much quicker such as giving IV's, taking patient vitals and giving necessary medication as needed.


Besides putting effort on nurses training, Lowell General also optimizes the use of electronic health records to make things move fast also providing patients who are tech savvy and motivated the opportunity to track their own care which in short, should speed up the waiting process. 


“So patients who are tech savvy and really motivated to track their own care,” said Reid. “I 100% think [will have quicker hospital visits] because they can kind of work with the clinical teams to stay on track for overall discharges and things like that.”


Reid is confident that the program strategies can ease the constant patient flow within hospitals, explaining that new patients will have quicker access to treatment or recovery experience, especially for those who are cooperative with their system and understanding of current technology. 


Hiring more staff and making sure more nurses are qualified enough to face big patient flow seems necessary, but Katie Murphy, president of the MNA, believes that it's difficult to make a universal change because hospitals are still money-driven. 


“These are the health care providers, you know, willing and able to provide care. We saw that a hospital is a system that is run by money and driven by money. Now there is decreasing availability to the community" said Murphy. 


Sandy Eaton, 78, a retired nurse who is also active with Massachusetts Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare, said, "After the pandemic, a lot of nurses don't work. More and more doctors are leaving because of the horrors of going through the three years of the pandemic." 


Massachusetts Nurses Association surveyed over 500 nurses regarding their future career plans, and found that nearly 20% of them plan to leave their positions. Of those, 40% said retirement is the main reason for leaving, while 20% attributed their departure to understaffing. Additionally, 19% stated that stress and burnout were the main reasons for their decision to exit.


Eaton stressed the numbers of nurses and other caregivers hired in health facilities are not adequate "as they can't afford, they deliberately reduce, or they don't seek to hire enough personnel to actually care for people." Such intended reduction due to insufficient funds also makes changes difficult to happen countrywide. 


Regarding wait times in Greater Boston and beyond, there is still a long way to go. Reid said that with the presented strategies, patients at Lowell General Hospital are very thankful for faster medical help. “[Those] kinds of strategies can also be used by other hospitals for solving the patient flow,” said Reid. Lowell General Hospital has seen an improvement in wait time, with fewer patients being denied medical resources due to shortages of trained staff and lack of technological resources.


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