Hays Medical Center recently introduced ER Fast Track, which allows patients with minor illnesses or injuries to be treated more quickly and then released. The program aims to provide timely care at a cheaper rate.

The program is estimated to cut emergency room costs by 25 percent.

"It's under the emergency department," said Kevin Myers, critical care director. "So, we need to make sure it's a basic, non-emergent injury or illness before they qualify for fast track."

The Fast Track program treats simple lacerations, basic urinary tract infections and the common cold, among other non-life threatening situations.

"We're obligated to make sure nothing more serious is there," Myers said. "So we have to define what the discharge diagnoses are. If you come in with an upper respiratory illness, that qualifies you for Fast Track, but we can't guarantee it until after we've evaluated you."

Evaluations are completed by nurses, doctors or a nurse practitioner.

"We've added a mid-level provider," Myers said. "A nurse practitioner is on staff from 2 to 10. The goal is that they see Fast Track patients and it off-loads the emergency department for the sicker patients."

The goal is to treat all Fast Track patients in 90 minutes or less.

Myers said they chose to run the Fast Track program from 2 to 10 p.m. because they noticed the highest surge of patients arrived within that time frame.

"We saw from surveys that we had a peak time," he said. "We thought if we could put a mid-level in there, we could help the surge so it's not such a long wait."

The addition of the Fast Track program does increase the cost for the hospital because of the mid-level provider, but Myers hopes the additional volume will offset the cost.

"It's a business risk," he said. "But it's the right thing to do."

Fast Track officially began Dec. 1 and has been averaging 12 patients per day.

"The general ER averages 40 patients a day," Myers said. "So, Fast Track is now making up roughly 30 percent of our patients."

Treatment in Fast Track differs slightly from the traditional ER treatment.

"You are going to get the same care," Myers said. "The main difference is you won't use as many resources."

Those resources include procedures such as labs, X-rays or other specific tests.

"You qualify for Fast Track if you only need one or none of those," he said. "If you're really sick, you'll need all of them. Fast Track is for simple injuries that need simple testing."

In the future, Myers foresees a larger volume of patients and expanded hours.

"It's going well," he said. "It's still early, but it's going in the right direction, which is very exciting for us. We've been wanting this for a long time, and we're finally getting the chance to do it."

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