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Billboards posting ER wait times are pricey marketing tools

The Palm Beach Post, September 15, 2010

The battle of the emergency room billboards is being waged on our roadways.

"Why Wait LongER?" asks a billboard on northbound Interstate 95 near 45th Street. It lists live emergency room wait times for Columbia Hospital, JFK Medical Center and Palms West Hospital. You also can use your cellphone to text "ER" to 23000 and receive a text with the wait times for the hospitals.

Nearby is a "More than Just Fast ER" sign advertising St. Mary's Medical Center. Southbound, there are three more billboards - for St. Mary's, Columbia and Good Samaritan Medical Center - all within in a 5-mile stretch.

At as much as $10,000 per month per billboard, these ads are a big investment.

Why the ER advertising? On the surface, the idea doesn't make sense. Selecting an emergency room isn't like choosing a supermarket or department store. In some cases, it's not a choice. People who have a heart attack, stroke or other similar emergency usually don't get to decide where paramedics take them.