Would you like fries with that diagnosis?

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As we all know, Californians are car-crazy. So perhaps it was only a matter of time before an enterprising group of ER docs set up an experimental drive-through flu clinic in a parking garage near Stanford University Hospital in Palo Alto.

To test this awesome idea, the doctors got actors to play 38 actual patients who came to the hospital’s emergency room in April, when the H1N1 outbreak was just getting started. The “patients” remained in their cars while they went through the usual steps of registration, triage, screening and discharge, according to the report in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Blood pressure, temperature, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate and other vitals were take while patients remained inside their vehicles. Patients only got out of their cars “briefly to be examined while they sat or lay on a cot in a screened and heated area adjacent to the vehicle,” according to the study.

It turns out there were several advantages to keeping people in their cars, researchers discovered. For one, patients remained isolated from each other, which would have prevented the spread of flu in an actual outbreak. Second, since each patient came with his or her own mobile exam room, there was never a shortage of beds. Nor did staff have to devote any time to cleaning up hospital rooms between patients.


There are obvious advantages to patients as well. Who wouldn’t rather be ensconced in their own familiar environment listening to their own CDs or talk radio program instead of trying to stay comfortable on plastic chairs filled with sneezing strangers?

The experiment worked so well that the average length of stay for patient-actors was only 26 minutes. Not only that, doctors actually got faster as the experiment went on, according to the journal. Most importantly, they were 100% accurate in determining which patients should be admitted to the hospital and which should be discharged.

The Stanford researchers concluded that their drive-through flu clinic had “many advantages and few limitations.” We are inclined to agree. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. How about adding an In-N-Out or Starbucks on the way out of the clinic?

-- Karen Kaplan