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CMS Quietly Makes Some ED Wait Times Public

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, March 7, 2013

The wait times, reflecting care from January 1 to March 31, 2012, are listed on the Hospital Compare website under the tab, "Timely and Effective Care," paired with comparative numbers at the state and national level., This way anyone can see how any hospital stacks up against up to two others at the same time.

But after a few conversations with emergency care experts who know how to read between the lines of this 29,664-record database, I started to realize how raw and flawed this effort still is.

For example, I learned late Wednesday that because of a bizarre glitch by the Georgia Hospital Association, which extracts data reports from claims for its member hospitals, wait times showing for 170 Georgia EDs are hopelessly inflated. [Editor's note: The Georgia Hospital Association has informed HealthLeaders Media that an error by GHA affected the emergency department wait times of 11 Georgia hospitals, not 170.]

The Georgia wait times appear—incorrectly—to be among the worst in the country because every patient is coded as if he or she arrived at midnight, regardless of what time he or she really arrived.

Second, the data reveals that many of the thousands of hospitals reported no data on several measures, perhaps because they weren't interested in obtaining the 2% market basket update on its outpatient reimbursement that CMS rewards hospitals that go to all this trouble.

Or maybe because they didn't want to spend the time, or didn't want to face a long-standing problem prompting questions from not just patients, but donors and politicians as well.

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