Perhaps this hosptial in Virginia has the right idea; a little clock above a billboard to let you know what the current wait time is at the E.R. That will tell you if you should turn around and try someplace else, or if you stand a good chance at getting seen any time soon. We would love to hear your comments on emergency room waiting times. 2009’s statistics were just released, and the numbers have been getting worse every year.
The following is from the Wall Street Journal:
Of all the problems with the U.S. health-care system, one of the most vexing for patients is simply sitting in the doctor’s waiting room. Being ushered into the exam room, only to be left shivering in a paper gown, to wait some more, adds to the aggravation. It’s the health-care equivalent of being stuck on the tarmac in a crowded plane.
The average time patients spend waiting to see a health-care provider is 22 minutes, and some waits stretch for hours, according to a 2009 report by Press Ganey Associates, a health-care consulting firm, which surveyed 2.4 million patients at more than 10,000 locations. Orthopedists have the longest waits, at 29 minutes; dermatologists the shortest, at 20. The report also noted that patient satisfaction dropped significantly with each five minutes of waiting time.
Physicians rightly bristle that they aren’t serving french fries. Patients are different, and their needs are unpredictable. What’s more, doctors say that fee-for-service medicine with low reimbursement rates forces them to keep packing more patients into each day, compounding the opportunity for delays.
“I live my life in seven-minute intervals,” says Laurie Green, a obstetrician-gynecologist in San Francisco who delivers 400 to 500 babies a year and says she needs to bring in $70 every 15 minutes just to meet her office overhead.
Some practices, like Dr. Green’s, pride themselves on running efficiently, and others are finding ways to streamline office-traffic flow and cut waiting time. “Patients’ time is valuable. I think practitioners understand that more and more,” says Andre W. Renna, executive director of a group of 14 gastroenterologists in Lancaster, Pa. He says even the term “waiting room” has a bad connotation. Many offices prefer “reception area” instead.
Some steps to reduce patient wait times are as simple as leaving a few “catch-up” slots empty each day or stocking the same supplies in the same place in every exam room. “That way, doctors don’t have to stick their heads out the door and ask where things are. It saves a lot of time,” says L. Gordon Moore, a family physician and faculty member of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a Cambridge, Mass.-based non-profit group that advises medical practices.
Cutting waiting times is also part of the movement toward turning primary-care practices into what reformers call “patient-centered medical homes.”
For now, patients themselves can minimize waits by asking for the first appointment of the day or right after lunch, when doctors are least likely to be backed up.
Measures the health-care industry is trying or reviewing include:
“It’s really a combination of common sense, mathematics and eliminating stupid practices,” Dr. Wasson says.