New ER department changing face of emergency medicine


AURORA | The opening of the new Emergency Department at the University of Colorado Hospital next spring will mark a drastic change in the way emergency medicine is delivered.

Doctors and hospital staff say the facility is specifically designed around patient convenience, where imaging centers are on-site and patient wait-times are virtually

The new, 54,000-square-foot Emergency Department on the Anschutz Medical Campus is expected to replace the existing 20,000-square-foot Emergency Department by May 2013, and the building will also house inpatient services.

The new Emergency Department is nearly equal in length to a football field and includes showers for contaminated patients, five large trauma rooms, centers for CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging, and 77 new treatment areas, which is more than double the number of treatment areas in the existing department, said Tony Ruiz, project executive.

For Ruiz, the most distinguishing factor of the new Emergency Department is the triage area. Patients who can walk themselves into the ambulatory entrance of the facility will be assessed by a staff member and immediately transferred over to a doctor who will start treatment or lead them to one of the imaging centers in the building so there is no lag time. Patients who come in through the ambulance entrance will also go through a similar process.

“Triaging will be very different in this Emergency department than most emergency departments around the country,” Ruiz said.

The design of the new, $400 million Emergency Department was formulated by Dr. Richard Zane, professor and chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

He said the facility is “singularly unique” because it was specifically designed to address the evolving nature of emergency care.

Specialty emergency medicine has only been in existence for about 50 years, said Zane, who previously worked as an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and was the vice chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston for 14 years.

Until the early 1960s, a sick patient would call their general doctor, who would then either treat the patient or send the patient to a hospital. Nowadays, it’s common for emergency departments to treat patients with severe and complex illnesses on the spot, which requires the departments to have staff and medical technology and equipment that was previously only available in hospitals. During the past five decades, Zane said the physical process of delivering care has largely stayed the same, where an emergency department staff member assesses the sick patient and tells them to wait in a waiting area. The patient is then transferred to a nurse, then a doctor, all the while having to wait minutes or even hours in between care.

The new Emergency Department was specifically designed to eliminate what Zane calls “islands of time” where nothing is

“What we’re going to do is try to whenever possible change it to parallel processing,” Zane said. “That means taking the non-productive islands of time and making them productive.”

As common sense as that may seem, it’s a novel idea that switches the emergency department process and layout from being driven by the doctors and staff to being patient-centric, Zane said.

“The single most important thing we’re doing is we’re redefining the process of care … we’re taking a patient-centered approach to care, which is the way I believe all medicine should be,” he said.

The fact that the Emergency Department will have the capacity for medical imaging including CT scanning and radiography means that patients won’t have to waste time going to a different area on the campus for testing. The department also has 16 treatment areas dedicated to patients who require more treatment than a typical emergency department patient but not admission to the hospital.

“We’re able to do in 12 or 16 hours (at the Emergency Department) what it would take three weeks as an outpatient or three days as an inpatient to do,” Zane said.

The need for a new Emergency Department can’t be overstated, hospital staff members say. The original department was designed for about 20,000 to 30,000 patients per year, but each year the facility is seeing more than 70,000 patients, Zane said.

The construction of the new Emergency Department is part of a larger development project designed to increase the University of Colorado Hospital size by 300 beds and 700,000 square feet.

The University of Colorado Hospital Foundation is hosting a fundraising event at 6 p.m. Feb. 9, 2013, at the new Emergency Department, in hopes of raising $1 million to help pay for hospital equipment including a new, state-of-the-art CT scan machine. For more information visit

Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or [email protected]