ER wait time pledges improve patient satisfaction

As hospitals prepare themselves for reimbursement changes based partly on patient satisfaction scores, hospitals are coming up with new ways to provide better customer service and timely care, including a 30-minutes-or-less promise in emergency room (ER) wait times.

"We think it's a great thing because we think we provide great service to our patients," said Northwest Medical Center CEO Kevin Stockton about Medicare reimbursements linked to patient satisfaction in an article by News 4, an NBC affiliate.

Northwest Medical Center in Arizona recently launched a 30-minute pledge. The average wait time used to last an hour but now lasts only 22 minutes, according to Stockton.

Similarly, College Station Medical Center in Texas publicizes its wait times and promises patients that a board-certified ER physician will see them within 30 minutes of arrival. The wait time at College Station Medical Center averages 15 minutes, according to a KBTX report.

"[O]ur satisfaction scores of patients that say they'll come back is one of the highest in the country at over 80 percent," College Station Medical Center CEO Tom Jackson said.

But happier patients isn't the only reason for shortening wait times. Studies have showed that long emergency department wait times can mean adverse events. According to a study, published this summer in the British Medical Journal, long wait times are tied to more patient deaths and hospital admissions.

Patients also skip care when ER wait times drag on. Researchers at the University of South Florida linked boarding of admitted patients to the ER with higher rates of patients leaving without treatment, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians at its 2010 annual meeting.

For more information:
- see the KBTX report
- watch the report from News 4, an NBC affiliate