SAINT JOHN – Shawn Peterson does not guarantee that his new computer program will get you to the head of the emergency room line any faster.
However, Q-Time might at least give you an idea how long you have to wait, the programmer at T4G in Saint John said in an interview Saturday.
It could also provide immediate information allowing managers to take steps to speed things up, he said.
Currently, hospital administrators do not get data on ER wait times until after the fact, Peterson explained. “What’s it matter that wait times were high a month ago? It’s meaningless,” he said.
Peterson, who graduated from Simonds High School in 2002 then studied computer programming at the New Brunswick Community College in Saint John, started with T4G in 2005.
He will enter Q-Time, which he developed over the past several months, in the company’s annual GeekFest competition March 7 in Toronto at the Ontario Science Centre.
The company bills GeekFest as “T4G’s annual showcase of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurialism.”
Employees enter projects they develop on their own time. The winner gets $10,000. T4G might or might not develop the winner into a commercial product.
Peterson approached management at the Saint John Regional Hospital, including chief of staff Dr. John Dornan and head of emergency medicine Dr. Michael Howlett.
“We’re trying to work on proof of concept,” Peterson said. “Let’s see how this thing would actually work at the Saint John Regional Hospital.”
After several months of meeting and talking to people, he worked “about a month” to build it for GeekFest.
“That’s where everyone will be showing off their idea,” Peterson said. “Right now it’s my idea. It’s for the GeekFest.”
T4G employees put forward about 50 ideas which were narrowed to 10 or 12 to take to Toronto where the judges will pick the top three. The audience of probably 200 or 300 people will elect the winner of the $10,000 prize.
“The company is really focused on showing innovation.” Peterson said.
He envisions a program allowing people to check, maybe, a hand-held device for updates on the average wait time for level one, two and three emergency cases without harassing already stressed ER staff.
The program might include a big electronic board on the wall showing how far each number – a number for each waiting patient – is from getting called in to see the doctor.
It would provide insight, for example, if someone with a more serious problem than others seems to jump the queue.
“It’s the people who are kind of on the borderline, ‘Should I wait for my family doctor, or go to the clinic, or go to the ER?’” Peterson said, explaining the educational aspect of Q-Time.
This might make the night go easier for triage nurses bearing the brunt of if-looks-could-kill stares. “A lot of people don’t understand that it’s not first come, first serve,” Peterson said.
Chest pains, a ruptured appendix or gushing blood will always trump a sprained ankle or bad cold. Q-Time would help people understand why they suddenly drop back down the line. “Why is this person ahead of me? I was here first,” he said rhetorically.
“It would more be a service for hospitals that we could provide,” Peterson said. The company selling the program would have to integrate it into the hospital’s “legacy systems.”
“There’s always going to be some work involved integrating with each system,” he said.
With protocols to protect privacy, the program that Peterson envisages would provide periodic updates to the public and hospital managers, collecting as quickly as ER staff punch it in.
He does not see a system allowing a low-priority patient facing a four-hour wait to come back later without losing his or her place in the line.
However, in communities like Saint John and Moncton with two hospitals each, a patient needing medical attention might check which emergency room has the shortest wait times at the moment – or consider going to a clinic or family doctor.
“Really, to me, it’s all about setting expectations,” Peterson said. “The emergency room is not an appointment-type situation.”
As always, I’d love to hear your comments!