EmOpti Aims to Help Patients in ER Get Seen by Doctors More Quickly

Ed Barthell doesn’t mince words when describing the poor experiences many patients have when they go to the emergency room.

“Emergency medicine is still an industry that essentially delivers lousy service for really high cost,” says Barthell, a doctor who worked in the ER for more than two decades before leaving his clinical practice in 2008 to focus full-time on healthcare technology development.

His latest venture is EmOpti, a Brookfield, WI-based startup that aims to shorten emergency room wait times and hospital stays by having offsite physicians examine some patients over a video feed upon arrival.

Launched in 2015, EmOpti’s tools are currently being used at eight hospitals across four healthcare organizations, including three Aurora Health Care hospitals in southeastern Wisconsin. The startup’s customers have used its Web-based software to perform nearly 100,000 video consultations, Barthell says. EmOpti is now working with its existing customers to shift more of their emergency departments to a “remote provider-in-triage” model, he says. (More on this in a minute.) Meanwhile, the startup is also in talks with additional hospital systems in the U.S. and other countries about making the shift, with EmOpti’s help.

Patients who have suffered life-threatening injuries or are otherwise in need of immediate care are put in rooms right away after they arrive at the ER. Meanwhile, most patients with less urgent injuries or illnesses typically see a triage nurse. This person is responsible for documenting a patient’s chief complaint and taking his vital signs, after which the nurse usually tells him to wait in the lobby until a doctor is ready to see him.

Barthell says that for these “lower-acuity” patients, it makes more sense to place orders for medications and request diagnostic tests like X-rays and blood analyses shortly after the patients arrive, rather than waiting until they’ve been seen by a doctor in-person. The issue, he says, is that at many hospitals, triage nurses and other care providers do not have the same ordering privileges as physicians.

Barthell founded EmOpti based in part on the idea that it’s more efficient to have a doctor or physician assistant (P.A.) give patients a once-over while they’re at the triage desk—and, if warranted, order tests and treatments for them. But rather than station a physician next to the triage desk at the front of the ER, hospitals that use EmOpti put a doctor or P.A. in a remote “command center.” That way, the person in the command center can perform video consults with triage nurses at multiple hospitals—another efficiency gain.

Remote healthcare consults enabled by software—known as telehealth or telemedicine—have been touted by supporters, who say these virtual visits can improve access to care and lower costs. Some applications of telehealth (though not all of them) involve enabling patients to “see” doctors without leaving their homes, or to connect with specialists remotely. EmOpti’s business demonstrates how startups and healthcare organizations are experimenting with such technologies inside hospitals.

The question is whether EmOpti’s approach will catch on. But some of the company’s early customers say its product is making a positive impact.

“It’s a change in how you triage patients,” says Paul Coogan, a physician and the president of emergency services at Aurora. “There was initially some resistance. The … Next Page »

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