NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 6, 2006

Whether it's emergency room treatment, a routine doctor's appointment or those anxious days between getting poked and prodded for medical tests and receiving the results, waiting happens to just about everyone seeking medical care, say observers.

An Institute of Medicine report on the crisis in U.S. emergency care detailed trends that have contributed to long emergency room waits, including increased demand, staff shortages and hospital closings.  Between 1993-2003, for example:

  • The number of U.S. emergency departments fell by about 425 or about 12 percent.
  • At the same time, the number of patients seeking emergency room care jumped 26 percent to 114 million.
  • Patients include uninsured or underinsured patients and those who seek emergency care for non-emergencies because they have no regular doctor.

But after years of overcrowding, overbooking and angry patient complaints, many hospitals and doctors' offices are finally doing something about the wait:

  • Many offer test results electronically the same time the doctor sees them through private online accounts.
  • More are using "Open-access" scheduling, reserving up to 70 percent of their daily schedules for patients who call early for same-day appointments.
  • Hospitals are creating "fast-track" programs for patients who will not require hospitalization and who tend to wait the longest for emergency care by hiring additional emergency room doctors, building separate areas for fast-track cases; and investing in electronic systems to speed up patient registration.
  • Others are offering restaurant-style pagers so not-so-sick patients don't feel stuck in a crowded emergency waiting room.

Source: Lindsey Tanner, "Hospitals, MDs addressing long wait time," Associated Pres/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 5, 2006.


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