A nurse and doctor stand in front of a wait time clock in Michael Garron Hospital's Emergency Department.
Hadia Bilal Ahmad, Registered Nurse, and Dr. David Rosenstein, Emergency Physician, in MGH's Emergency Department.

MGH’s Emergency Department launches detailed wait time clocks to improve care experiences

Michael Garron Hospital (MGH) has introduced detailed wait time clocks to improve care experiences for both patients and providers in the Stavro Emergency Department (ED), one of the hospital’s busiest areas. 

There are now two wait time clocks displayed on digital screens in the ED: one in the triage area shows estimated wait times to see the triage nurse; and one in the Green and Pink Zones shows estimated wait times to see a doctor in these zones. 

Launched in summer 2023, the wait time clocks provide patients accurate information about what they can expect during their visit to MGH’s ED. The clocks also increase awareness among patients and their loved ones about how busy the ED is at any given time. 

The wait time clocks are updated in real-time based on data from MGH’s clinical health information system.  

“This initiative is a great way to help ensure our patients are aware of what to expect in our ED during their visit,” says Dr. David Rosenstein, Emergency Physician and Information Technology (IT) Lead in MGH’s ED. “This helps improve the experiences of not only our patients and their families, but also our interprofessional teams working in the ED.” 

The wait time clocks are among the latest innovations from MGH’s ED to improve patient care. Other initiatives include the Child and Youth Emergency Zone, a family-friendly space that is designed to provide urgent care for children and youth, and the E-Booking Portal for Minor Injuries, which allows patients with minor musculoskeletal injuries to book an ED appointment before visiting. 

Clocks help patients feel ‘seen’ 

A screen displays estimated wait times and how busy the Emergency Department is.
The new wait time clock in the triage area of MGH's Emergency Department.

While wait time clocks are common in EDs in Ontario, the MGH ED’s wait time clocks are unique because the clocks show a “Patient List” of individuals who are waiting to see a triage nurse or doctor at any given time. This allows patients to see where they are in the queue. 

To protect patient privacy, the clocks only display the patient’s first name and last four numbers of their medical record number (MRN). 

MGH’s ED Team included this feature on the wait time clocks in response to feedback from the hospital’s Patient Experience Panel (PEP), a group of former patients and family members of patients who work with hospital staff on projects that impact patient care. 

“We heard from our Patient Experience Panel that they appreciate knowing where they are in the ‘queue’ in the ED,” Dr. Rosenstein says. “This additional level of transparency helps alleviate stress and anxiety that patients may be feeling, and confirms the length of time that they and other patients in the ED have been waiting to receive care.” 

Hadia Bilal Ahmad, Registered Nurse (RN) in MGH’s ED, says this element of the wait time clocks has been well-received by patients. 

“We’ve heard from patients that the ‘Patient List’ portion of the ED wait time clocks helps them feel seen,” Hadia adds. “They are reassured that our team is aware of their presence and we are doing our best to assess and treat them as safely and quickly as possible.” 

Collaborative development process 

In addition to the PEP, MGH’s ED Team worked with the Privacy Team to ensure the wait time clocks abide by Canadian privacy laws. They also worked with the Corporate Communications and Community Engagement Team to develop an easy-to-read design for the clocks. 

As part of this collaboration, the teams referenced evidence-based research studies about ED wait time clocks to help ensure they considered best practices and recommendations from researchers, patients and healthcare providers.  

This includes displaying information that reminds patients that individuals in the ED are seen in order of urgency, rather than arrival. 

The MGH ED Team built the clocks in-house with support from the hospital’s Diagnostic Imaging Team, who operate a wait time clock in their department’s waiting area.  

MGH Foundation supported the initiative with funds raised by its Impact Council, a group of philanthropically minded young professionals. 

“The ED wait time clocks were truly a collaborative effort among teams across MGH and made possible by donors,” Dr. Rosenstein says. “We’re incredibly grateful to our patient partners and colleagues for lending their time, expertise and perspectives to this project. We also thank our ED team for their support on these clocks and continuing to provide feedback that will allow us to enhance them where needed.” 

Displayed in areas that see high patient volumes 

MGH’s ED wait time clocks are displayed in areas that typically see high patient volumes, so wait times change frequently. 

The triage area sees all patients; the Green and Pink Zones see patients with health concerns that are defined as minor or non-life threatening, such as respiratory illness symptoms, when their primary care provider is not available and other urgent care options in the community are not available to them. 

The wait time clocks help address questions patients may have during their ED visit by providing accurate and up-to-date information. This enables the ED’s nurses, physicians and other team members to dedicate as much time and attention as possible to assessing and treating patients.   

MGH’s ED Team is exploring displaying the wait time clocks online.  

“We’re really happy to hear all the positive feedback so far,” Hadia says. “Our patients have told us they really like the wait time clocks – they feel it’s making a difference in their experiences here.” 

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