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Wait Times in Emergency Departments Surge

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, July 22, 2010

“Although the overall national average wait time increased slightly, what we found encouraging is that 32 states had either reduced wait times or held increases in wait times to five minutes or less over the previous year,” says Deirdre Mylod, vice president, hospital services, Press Ganey. “Some states have done really well in keeping emergency department times in check, despite growing challenges of higher patient volumes and understaffing. But there’s still a long way to go to make visits to the emergency department much more efficient for patients.”

Despite longer waits, patient satisfaction with hospital emergency departments stayed about the same in 2009, continuing a five-year upward trend. Press Ganey says providing a patient with good emergency department experiences requires communication. Patients are willing to wait for care as long as they are kept informed about wait times. Patients who waited more than four hours, but received “good” or “very good” information about delays were just as satisfied as patients who spent less than one hour in the emergency department. Patient evaluation of communication about delays is identified as a key driver nationally of satisfaction.

 “Patients would, of course, prefer a more efficient process,” says Mylod. “But good communication helps them understand the processes within the emergency department environment and shows them that staff has not forgotten them. Frequent, proactive communication improves both the quality of patient care and the manner in which patients perceive their care.”

Many hospitals are instituting procedures such as whiteboards in exam rooms to keep patients informed about treatments or delays. Also, welcome letters or pamphlets provided by the hospital help patients understand the process of triage, and prioritized treatment.

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1 comments on "Wait Times in Emergency Departments Surge"


Elizabeth Patterson, MD, FACEP (7/17/2011 at 7:54 PM)
I think you are confusing terminology here. The total time spent in the Emergency Department is different from the time waiting to be seen in the Emergency Department. Mixing these terms and the data associated with each metric makes for confusing reading and misinformation.