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Longer Waits For Emergency Care Coming, Physicians Say

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, July 26, 2010

A report detailing record-long waits at the nation's emergency departments comes as no surprise to emergency physicians, who say waits will lengthen as health coverage expands, emergency departments close, and hospitals fail to improve admitting processes.

Angela Gardner, MD, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, says the four-hours-and-seven-minutes average wait at the nation's EDs—detailed in Press Ganey's 2010 Emergency Department Pulse Report: Patient Perspectives on American Health Care— threatens patient safety.

"Nobody can possibly call a national average of more than four hours in the emergency department something to cheer about," Gardner says. "Last year the GAO reported that even patients who need to be seen in 1 to 14 minutes are waiting an average of 37 minutes for care. Emergency physicians have become masters of improvisation and troubleshooting under extreme conditions, but the fundamental problems in our emergency departments remain unsolved."

The Press Ganey report is based on evaluations of more than 1.5 million patients treated at 1,893 hospitals in 2009. The 2009 average wait was a four minute increase over 2008 wait times, and a 31-minute increase since reports were made available in 2002.

Gardner said hospitals aren't doing a good job of admitting patients through the ED, which creates a backlog. "Hospitals need to stop boarding admitted patients in the emergency department and get them to the appropriate inpatient floor quickly," Gardner says. "That is what's best for the admitted patients but it's also what's best for the patients suffering in the waiting room."

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