Archive for Tuesday, August 24, 2010

ER waiting-time notices go high-tech

August 24, 2010

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— Need an X-ray or stitches? Online, via text message or flashing on a billboard, some emergency rooms are advertising how long the dreaded wait for care will be, with estimates updated every few minutes.

It’s a marketing move aimed at less urgent patients, not the true emergencies that automatically go to the front of the line anyway — and shouldn’t waste precious minutes checking the wait.

Despite that fledgling trend, ERs are getting busier, forcing them to try innovative tactics to cut delays — such as stationing doctors at the front door to get a jump-start on certain patients.

And in 2012, hospitals are supposed to begin reporting to Medicare how fast their ERs move certain patients through, a first step at increasing quality of care across the board.

“The longer people stay in the emergency department, the more likely they’re going to have complications, deaths. If they’re elderly, they’re more likely to end up in a nursing home,” says Dr. Nick Jouriles, emergency medicine chief at Akron General Hospital in Ohio, among the hospitals that post estimated wait times.

ER visits hit a new high of more than 123 million in 2008, up from 117 million a year earlier, says preliminary data released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A disturbing report last year from Congress’ investigative arm found too often, patients who should have been seen immediately waited nearly a half hour. Add in tests and treatment, and a trip to the ER can easily last three or four hours.

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