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Emergency care project for elderly to be duplicated

A fast-tracked emergency department program for elderly patients co-developed by the University of the Sunshine Coast and Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service (SCHHS) is now being rolled out in Cairns and Ipswich.

SCHHS emergency staff specialist Dr Elizabeth Marsden has secured a $100,000 grant from the Emergency Medicine Foundation to extend the Geriatric Emergency Department Intervention (GEDI) program to improve emergency care of people 70 years and older.

USC oversaw the research and evaluation of the successful hospital pilot, and Queensland Health is now funding the rollout to further state hospitals and health services.

USC’s Professor of Nursing Marianne Wallis said the trial program at Nambour General Hospital had simultaneously saved money by fast-tracking care while improving patient experience and outcomes. The program has since been rolled out at Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

“We found that, from 45,000 patients whose data we surveyed between 2012 and 2016, the program reduced the amount of admissions, the amount of time the patient spent in hospital, and there were no adverse outcomes,” Professor Wallis said.

The GEDI nursing team (pronounced jed-i) is on duty 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

The team is led by nurses and championed by a physician to ensure rapid assessment tailored to the individual and direct referral to specialists in the hospital, systems for rapid decision making, as well as safe discharge planning with support back into the community.

“It’s a more streamlined process that allows us to mobilise more quickly,” Professor Wallis said.

“The nurses wear bright pink, making it easier for patients and staff to specify that they ‘need to see the pink nurse’.”

“Going to the emergency department can be a frightening thing for frail older people because it is a high-tech environment with bright lights and alarms, so anything we can do to minimise this stress is a good thing,” Professor Wallis said.

And while it comes at a cost, the savings are rapidly realised through lower admissions, all factors which have helped the program achieve success. The initial evaluation was made possible by a grant from the Commonwealth Department of Health and the development of a toolkit to help implementation was funded by Queensland Health.

“It works out somewhere between $35 and $70 cheaper per person,” Professor Wallis said.

USC PhD students Dr Marsden and Andrea Taylor are helping expand the program to Cairns Base Hospital and Ipswich Hospital, training new staff and sharing resources.

Professor Wallis said the approach was rapidly gaining traction in regional hospitals around the world.

“I’ve just returned from Denmark and we have been liaising with Canada where they have similar programs,” she said.

- Janelle Kirkland

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