When does spending four to five hours in an emergency department constitute efficient and affordable use of time and resources? Most people would say never.
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more people in the U.S. have access to health insurance than ever before. The problem seems to be however that there are not enough family practice and primary care physicians to meet the increased demands.
Thus, when people are in need of urgent or emergent care, they choose their local emergency department. This includes not only those with chest pain or seizure symptoms. It also includes those who are experiencing abdominal pain, deep cuts, dizziness, et cetera. Triaging patients (the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition) with so many different symptoms can be time-consuming for healthcare providers and time-delaying for patients.
Is There an Emergency Room Wait Answer?
Research statistics on this topic are not easy to find, but here is a fairly current (December 2014) list of emergency room wait times broken down by state. This reporter must take exception to the local time indicated for my area; however, as it is not even close to what we waited yesterday when I went with a family member for non-life-threatening care which was a Wednesday at around noon (considered a slow time for emergency visits).
http://projects.propublica.org/emergency/ ER Wait Watcher
Nevertheless, there are some hospitals who are trying to get it right using innovative and patient-friendly methods of doling out precious emergent care to patients.
Bakersfield Heart Hospital in Bakersfield, CA
The Bakersfield Heart Hospital in Bakersfield, California, launched a new program in an effort to reduce waiting times in the ER. It is called Fast Track. Patients with ailments or injuries that are non-life-threatening are separated from those with major serious emergencies. These are patients who are sitting in a waiting room for four to five hours, being pushed back while those with heart conditions and other life-threatening problems go in before them. They understand the reasoning behind the decisions, but these people end up leaving before they are seen simply because of frustration (or perhaps because they have to get back to work).
The Fast Track program helps their incoming patients to get appropriate healthcare and sends them on their way. Their goal is to get these people in and out within one hour and perhaps even improve on that time as the program gains momentum.
http://www.turnto23.com/news/local-news/emergency-room-wait-times-pushing-hospitals-to-open-fast-track-programs-022015 ER Wait Times Push Hospitals to Open Fast Track Programs
St. Mary’s Hospital in Jefferson City, MO
Heading east from Bakersfield to Jefferson City, MO, is one of four facilities offering their patients another way to avoid sitting in a waiting room. Their patient program is called InQuicker, and allows people to wait at home prior to being seen by a healthcare provider by registering online and selecting a projected treatment time, providing contact information. By checking-in online, they can turn a minor emergency into a short waiting room trip and still get the care they need while waiting in the comfort of their own home. A third party contacts the patient to get additional information and make sure they qualify for services. This protocol makes sense for flu symptoms, minor injuries, and other non-life-threatening symptoms. Anything major such as chest pain, broken bones, et cetera, is sent to the emergency room immediately.
This program is less than a year old and has yet to be fully assessed. The process has been somewhat slowed down because the hospital has been moving to a new facility.
http://www.newstribune.com/news/2015/mar/04/ssm-changes-waiting-room-living-room-minor-emergen/ SSM Changes Waiting Room to Living Room
Carolinas HealthCare System – North Carolina cities
Yet another innovative idea in emergency care comes from the Carolinas HealthCare System in various cities throughout North Carolina. These facilities post emergency room waiting times online as well as urgent care wait times. A total of 19 facilities in different cities are listed and show waiting times in Real Time, and they ranged from 15 to 47 minutes for emergent care when last checked today. Urgent care wait times varied and went up to 2 hours when last checked today. This way patients can make a decision before heading out for care and can plan on how long they may have to wait.
http://www.carolinashealthcare.org/wait-times Access Wait Times in Real Time
With longer and longer emergency room wait times, hospitals will need to become more efficient and innovative to distribute the care where it is needed most. Some of the above hospitals are striving to make the wait times easier and more convenient for their patients with non-life-threatening healthcare needs.