University of Calgary

Nurse studies ripple effect of our obsession with hospital wait times

UToday HomeMarch 1, 2013

Karen Melon, the second presenter in the Distinguished Speaker Series, is pictured with Michael Corman, assistant professor in the University of Calgary Qatar Faculty of Nursing.Karen Melon, the second presenter in the Distinguished Speaker Series, is pictured with Michael Corman, assistant professor in the University of Calgary Qatar Faculty of Nursing.Wait times at hospital emergency departments are a sensitive issue almost everywhere in the world.

Just how hospitals and medical systems react to those waiting times is a subject that led to an extensive study by Karen Melon, the second presenter in the University of Calgary Qatar’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

Based on research and more than 30 years of experience in critical care, Melon conducted an analysis of the management and organization of emergency departments. Her study is titled Emergency Wait Times: Ruling by the Clock.

Melon, a critical care clinical nurse and educator, focused in her study on the consequences of reorganizing nursing work in order to accomplish reduced emergency wait times.

“Nurses’ work cannot be reduced to standard or numerical categories inherent in production line methods of service delivery. There is no system of measurement that will record this – nor should there be,” Melon says.

Melon gathered her data from interviews with nurses in the Calgary health care system. Each hospital sees, on average, about 250 patients per day. Wait times can vary anywhere from two to eight or 10 hours. “Wait times are determined by the length of time from when a person enters a hospital to when they see a doctor. But nurses do a significant amount of work with that patient during that waiting period,” she explained.

Overall health care restructuring in Canada, which is aimed at reducing spending in a publicly-funded system, impacted greatly on hospital emergency systems. “The focus on wait times and the invisibility of nurses’ work within waiting time distracts us from considering other definitions of quality in emergency care and interventions that may contribute positively to patients’ health, well being and safe passage through the system,” says Melon.

Michael Corman, assistant professor who arranged the lecture, makes a good point about the impact of health care reform and its affect on patient care. “What we see through research is that solutions can often create additional problems. Most systems need to have a focus on things that don’t rely solely on the numbers. This is strong, critical, qualitative research that provides a different look at reform and restructuring, policy and practice and actually sees how it impacts people.”

Melon completed her Masters in Nursing at University of Calgary and is certified in emergency nursing through the Canadian Nurses Association. Her thesis, an institutional ethnographic study on nurses’ triage work, has been nominated for a Governor General’s award.


 

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