Leaving without treatment can lead to lost revenue for hospitals and health risks for patients. Long wait times are the main factorcited by patients for leaving without getting care.
In addition to using “lean” management techniques to speed patients more efficiently through the ER, which studies have shown can reduce left-without-being-seen rates, health systems with multiple ERs are posting wait times online or in the waiting rooms at different facilities so patients can chose the shortest option.
Akron General Health System in Ohio went one step further last year and began providing live streaming of wait times on highway billboards for two freestanding emergency rooms it built — one about a 15-minute drive north and one the same distance west — of its main downtown campus. It will soon start showing times for a third auxiliary ER in Lodi, Ohio; wait times for that one are on the hospital website.
Jack Mitstifer, chair of emergency medicine at Akron, tells the Health Blog that at first the hospital system also showed wait times for its main downtown campus, but stopped doing so when it became clear the times shown “didn’t reflect reality.” The downtown center is a level one trauma center designated for stroke and chest pain care, and a third of its patients arrive by helicopter or ambulance. Those patients are seen immediately, which drives the average wait time down, “but the people in the waiting room don’t see it,” says Mitstifer.
On the website, the hospital warns that downtown wait times can change rapidly, depending on the needs of patients who arrive by ambulance. The website urges patients to call 911 for emergencies and to get to the nearest ER when time is of the essence.
The billboards and website are a good marketing tool for patients who have minor injuries such as a laceration or injured ankle or wrist, and might be willing to drive an extra 10 or 15 minutes to have a better experience and get quicker care, Mitstifer says. “But we don’t want someone with chest pain or a stroke going online to see where the shortest wait is.”
By Laura Landro - The Wall Street Journal