APA News

I/O psychologist improves emergency medicine

If you go to the emergency room, you may often find yourself having to repeat your symptoms to every health-care worker you encounter. Eliminating that frustration is central to work by industrial-organizational psychologist Alexander Alonso, PhD, who is transforming the way nurses and physicians communicate and triage patients and in the process improving patient care.

Alonso, a senior research scientist at the American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C., and winner of this month's Innovative Practitioner award, has designed four-hour workshops that teach physicians and nurses to triage patients together so patients don't have to reiterate their symptoms, and to teach these health-care workers how to help people divulge medical and lifestyle information that can shape their treatments. The workshops also address another common ER patient complaint: cultural insensitivity. Presenters discuss cultural competency issues and emphasize how keeping triage teams as gender, culturally and ethnically diverse as possible can reduce bad patient experiences.

Alonso is tracking how well the strategies work in a large Midwestern emergency department with 500 physicians and nurses. His preliminary data found that the length of ER visits has decreased by 20 percent since the workshops began. Patients also reported feeling more informed about their treatment and prognosis, and the number of cultural insensitivity complaints has dropped by 12 percent, he says.

"Change often takes a lot of coaching, but people are consistently using these strategies," says Alonso. "We've also seen increased satisfaction among staff."

Alonso, whose past I/O work includes improving safety among cargo employees at the Chilean airline Lan Chile, aims to publish his data and expand this research to more ERs. He credits four mentors for shaping his career: David Baker, PhD, Eduardo Salas, PhD, Juan Sanchez, PhD, and Vish Viswesvaran, PhD.

—J. Chamberlin

APA President James H. Bray, PhD, is honoring psychologists who have a novel or creative approach to practice with an "Innovative Practitioner Award" in each 2009 issue of the Monitor. Read more about past winners online.