August 26, 2010

ER Wait Times via Cellphone

A new trend is unfolding: ERs across the country are posting their wait times online, via text, and even on a flashing billboard. With ER usage at a record high, hospitals are struggling to keep the wait times down, and this is one effort to dissipate the patient load.

According to an article by the Associated Press, "There are no statistics on how many hospitals advertise wait times, although they tend to have multiple ERs in a region, usually the suburbs. The idea: People with less urgent conditions — maybe they need stitches for a cut — might drive a bit farther for a shorter wait, possibly helping a hospital chain spread the load without losing easier cases to competitors."

Hospitals are trying everything from "team triage" — where patients are met by a doctor, nurse and paramedics at the front door — to "hallway medicine," where patients on guerneys are divided by the severity of their condition and given nursing attention in hallways.

These measures all point to a shortage of hospital in-patient beds and a poor system for directing non-urgent cases to appropriate places for care. Perhaps it's time to redefine "ER" so we preserve this valuable resource for true emergencies.