Paid content / Vodafone: transforming emergency department efficiency

04 June 2024

In the dynamic landscape of healthcare, the efficiency of emergency department (ED) operations stands as a critical indicator of overall system effectiveness. Yet, prolonged waiting times, often dismissed as mere inconveniences, can have far-reaching implications on patient safety and exacerbate the strain on already stretched resources. The intersection of patient care, operational efficiency, and digital innovation presents a unique opportunity to address these challenges head-on.

Vodafone logo

The critical impact of ED waiting times

Research has demonstrated the correlation between prolonged waits and adverse patient outcomes, including avoidable mortality. Every minute a patient spends waiting for care amplifies the risk of preventable harmRoyal College of Emergency Medicine (2015) Tackling emergency department crowding. Moreover, the financial burden of prolonged stays in the ED is substantial, adding significant costs to the provision of care.

Effectively managing patient demand

The patient arrival process at the ED front door encompasses two pivotal stages, both of which involve patient queueing. The initial queue pertains to registration, during which busy periods may entail queue times exceeding 30 minutes, throughout which the patient's condition is unknown. Subsequently, upon registration, the patient queue is triaged, and their clinical priority is determined.

According to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine guidelinesNHS England/Royal College of Emergency Medicine Guidance for emergency departments: initial assessment , an initial assessment should ideally occur within 15 minutes of patient arrival. However, it is not uncommon for patients to wait over an hour before their first encounter with a healthcare professional, during which time their clinical priority remains undeterminedNuffield Trust - A&E waiting times.. Given the influx of patient demand, compounded by a significant proportion of elderly and acutely unwell patients, trusts are presented with a formidable challenge in swiftly and safely assessing patient queues based on clinical priorityRoyal College of Emergency Medicine (2021) Crowding and its consequences .

As patients wait longer to receive care, there is a potential for their condition to deteriorate, such that patients in more severe conditions may incur a trust higher care cost. ResearchRoyal College of Emergency Medicine (2021) Crowding and its consequencesThe King’s Fund What’s going on with A&E waiting times?  underscores the importance of early identification of unwell patients, which not only reduces time to treatment but also enhances departmental flow. For instance, a 20-minute reduction in length of stay could unlock over 100 hours of clinical time and bed occupancy, enhancing departmental efficiency and capacityECIST Bitesize Podcast Series – Managing risk in an emergency department.

A collaborative approach to digital transformation

In addressing the growing demand within EDs, efficient patient management is crucial. Prolonged wait times not only impact patient outcomes, but also strain healthcare resources and have an impact on staff wellbeing. Collaborative partnerships between healthcare providers and industry are essential for streamlining patient flow and maximising the value of digital investments to enhance operational efficiency. Embracing a technology-agnostic approach and tailoring solutions to fit bespoke needs ensures a responsive and sustainable healthcare landscape.

In the face of these challenges lies an opportunity for transformation. Recognising a pressing need for innovation and digital transformation in the healthcare system, Vodafone in Health has collaborated with eConsult to unite Vodafone’s strengths of its state-of-the-art digital infrastructure with eConsult's leading digital eTriage solution, to help to reduce patient waiting times and enhance patient safety.

A new approach to managing ED demand

eConsult’s digital patient triage solution, eTriage, empowers EDs to automate patient check-in, prioritise cases based on clinical urgency, and redirect patients to appropriate services upon arrival. eTriage speeds up the streaming process, reducing the waiting time and time-to-treatment within the department. Moreover, it enables early identification of unwell patients, facilitating prompt intervention and enhancing departmental flow. Through eTriage, EDs gain full clinical visibility of their waiting room, empowering healthcare providers to make informed decisions and optimise resource allocation.

An impact assessment report by Ernst and YoungErnst and Young Potential benefit of eConsult to the NHS Potential benefit of eConsult to the NHS  on the potential benefit of eTriage to the NHS estimated a 4% nurse cost saving per attendance associated with the effective use of eTriage, and £1.04m efficiency saving per trust. It has been estimated that, if eConsult services were fully adopted and used to maximum effect by 50% of GP practices, 40% of urgent emergency and care departments and 40% of outpatient departments, the NHS could save up to £2.6bn per year.

eTriage saves three minutes of nurse time for every single patient triaged, which adds up to 260 to 360 hours of nurse time saved per month in any ED or urgent treatment centre that uses digital triage. There is also a huge potential saving to the system (£0.5 to £1m per department per year) from patients redirected to other, lower cost settings such as self-care, pharmacy or general practice.

Vodafone in Health as an enabler

Access to better healthcare begins with reliable and secure connectivity. Vodafone connectivity can provide the essential foundations for digitising healthcare; enabling cloud-based applications that deliver efficiency and productivity benefits and ensuring fast and secure data transmission essential for real-time decision-making in ED settings. Digitising healthcare comes with the imperative to manage security risks and protect against cyber-attacks.  Vodafone’s expertise in safeguarding critical national infrastructure can be utilised to offer invaluable insights and support, empowering trusts to enhance their cyber defence effectively.

Vodafone in Health recognises the variation across the NHS of both digital maturity and the individual needs of digitalisation. As such, the approach to each deployment of Vodafone’s connectivity and technology solutions is tailored to meet the needs of each ED, drawing on experience and best practice gained across the system. Underpinned by Vodafone’s technology solutions, trusts could swiftly adopt these digital solutions, and confidently scale operations according to patient demand, with the assurance of service continuity – ultimately reducing patient waiting times and optimising resource utilisation.

The imperative to optimise patient flow and maximise operational efficiency in EDs has never been more pressing. By embracing innovative digital solutions, and fostering collaborative partnerships, Vodafone in Health can unlock new possibilities for reducing waiting times, providing equal access to care and ultimately, improving patient outcomes.

To learn more about Vodafone in Health and our transformative solutions, visit Vodafone in Health.



[1] Royal College of Emergency Medicine (2015) Tackling emergency department crowding 

[2] NHS England/Royal College of Emergency Medicine Guidance for emergency departments: initial assessment 

[3] Nuffield Trust - A&E waiting times.

[4] [5] Royal College of Emergency Medicine (2021) Crowding and its consequences 

[6] The King's Fund What’s going on with A&E waiting times? 

 [7] ECIST Bitesize Podcast Series – Managing risk in an emergency department

[8] Ernst and Young Potential benefit of eConsult to the NHS Potential benefit of eConsult to the NHS