NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Hospitals Shorten Waiting Time for Emergency Patients

July 3, 2002

Some hospitals are making all-out efforts to process patients who come to their emergency rooms as swiftly as possible. They need to -- the relaxation of stringent managed-care rules is driving millions of Americans into emergency rooms. People are showing up without doctor referrals expecting to be treated. So are the uninsured, who by law can't be refused emergency treatment based on their inability to pay.

Another reason is the busy schedules of primary care physicians, who often see 35 or more patients a day and even double-book their 15-minute slots -- and thus have no time for patients who call with problems. Thus, recent figures on attempts to streamline ERs are noteworthy.

  • Some 62 percent of U.S. emergency rooms report being "at" or "over" capacity.
  • On average, it takes 47 minutes before a doctor sees an ER patient.
  • A growing number of hospitals are putting patients with relatively minor ailments into "fast track" units to get them into and out of emergency beds as soon as possible.
  • Others are using sophisticated computer systems to give administrators a complete up-to-the-minute status report on every patient in every emergency bed.

Emergency medical identification cards carrying vital health data are being tried. The cards can be swiped through a computer to speed up registration.

For many hospitals, the goal is a 30-minute wait between arrival and consultation with a physician. But some hospitals have achieved an average waiting time of only 17 minutes.

Source: Bernard Wysocki Jr., "Hospitals Cut ER Waits," Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2002.


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