Smartphone app designed by N.L. doctor, nurse is slashing emergency wait times

A doctor and nurse who work at the hospital emergency department in Carbonear have developed a smartphone app that is already improving wait times.

SurgeCon app gets $100K investment from Canadian Institute of Health Research for further development

Registered nurse Paul Norman and Dr. Christopher Patey work together at Carbonear General Hospital's emergency department. (Paula Gale/CBC)

A doctor and nurse who work at the hospital emergency department in Carbonear, Newfoundland and Labrador have developed a smartphone app that is already improving wait times.

Dr. Christopher Patey and registered nurse Paul Norman were grappling with ways to deal with a nearly 30 per cent increase in patients over the last four years, which was stretching staff and resources to the limit.

"It makes the working environment very difficult when you have people waiting, getting really frustrated and angry and different things," Norman said. " So we tried to look at ways we can change that and make it better and improve wait times."

SurgeCon is publicly available in the Apple App Store but right now is only applicable to Carbonear General Hospital. (Apple App Store)

The two were sent to Halifax for a presentation with Eastern Health, when they were introduced to a new concept around how to better anticipate busy times at the emergency department.

When they finally had a slow few hours one late night at the hospital, they mapped out what would eventually become the app called SurgeCon.

Now a few years since the app launched, they can say it's been a definite success.

"Right now sometimes we get patients who come in and they're seen in five minutes and sent home and they go 'Wow, I'm done?'" Patey said.

"So we've really approached this issue and have a better system for patients to be seen."

How it works

SurgeCon is used by all front line staff at the emergency department, who input information into the app that then gets calculated through algorithms to predict some of the peaks in surge and volume, and how to best realign resources and put the right people in the right places.

"We use it to look at how many people are waiting in our waiting room and it triggers us to maybe call in a second doctor or sometimes realign break times to meet that demand better," Norman said.

SurgeCon allowed staff to input certain variables about what's happening and the app will then give them suggestions for how to best allocate staff and resources. (Apple App Store)

The project caught the attention of the Canadian Institute of Health Research, which gave them a $100,000 grant to develop it further.

Hope for expansion

Both Patery and Norman say Eastern Health has been more than supportive as well, and they hope that some day it may get exported to other hospitals in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada and maybe even internationally

"Right now we're doing this to improve Carbonear hospital and if things go further that's great. We're not businessmen by any means but we're enjoying this ride," said Patey.

"We feel definitely supported and I think it shows probably a bit of a different direction than what we're used to from government . They're really listening to front line workers who are really doing the work."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from St. John's Morning Show