A pilot program, which aims to reduce waiting times in a busy public Emergency Department, is reaping benefits for patients.

Katrina Garvey, usually the familiar, friendly Nurse Unit Manager of PACU at Epworth Eastern, has been working as our first Patient Liaison Nurse for the past four months. Katrina is charged with setting up this program in partnership with Box Hill Hospital to benefit both organisations and the patient.

With the Emergency Department at Box Hill Hospital being very busy, Epworth can transfer suitable patients to our site to ease the load within the ED. By joining together, public patients with private health insurance can transition to Epworth Eastern across the road or to another Epworth hospital.

“I like to learn new things, so I put my hand up for this role,” Katrina said.

The Emergency Department is the first access point for many patients who have experienced an accident or sudden onset of a condition.

“At first, I was not sure how it would all work,” Katrina admitted.

She spends a lot of time on the phone, managing the transfer.

“I start by looking at the electronic medical record to see if the patient has private health insurance. If they have a medical condition we can treat, I check their health fund to make sure they are covered and ask about any excess payments so the patient is aware of any costs.

“Then, I liaise with the ED doctors to determine if a private transfer is a clinically good option for the patient. The transfer is also discussed with the patient to gain consent. I then source a private doctor to admit the patient to Epworth. Once accepted, I arrange a bed and organise the transfer.

“The ED doctor speaks to the patient and offers them the option of a private bed at Epworth, often within the hour. If the patient says yes and is transferred to Epworth, they may have same day surgery with us and they are often so grateful,” Katrina added.

“Traditionally when transferring to Epworth, the biggest barriers for ED are finding an appropriate doctor, getting a bed and checking the health fund. I make multiple phone calls to sort all three things, then the ED staff can just make one phone call to hand over the patient.”

With her phone constantly ringing, Katrina says the key is to make the process as simple and efficient as possible.

“We have a direct admission unit at Epworth Eastern now, so no matter the specialty, we should be able to get the patient into a bed. This arrangement relies on building a strong rapport with the BHH ED team.

“It’s not all surgical, there is a lot of general medical patients too. It’s strange what presents; one day I can see three patients with fractured hips and then none for several weeks.”

Director Emergency Services Box Hill Hospital, Jane Lukins is excited to see the pilot project develop as the services partner in care, to provide the best possible outcome for patients.

“It has been great to have the Epworth Eastern coordinator in our ED on a regular basis. She makes it so easy to facilitate private transfers for our patients who would like to take up that opportunity. This really assists our staff to reduce their administrative burden and be able to focus on clinical tasks to enable more efficient, and timely care for another patient needing our emergency service,” Dr Lukins said.

“Katrina has become a part of our team, we are grateful for her friendly and proactive attitude and we look forward to working with her into the future for the benefit of all our patients public and private.” 

The trial of this pilot project has been extended until the end of 2023. 

Katrina is planning to return to her NUM role soon, when a replacement is found to continue this important work.