Hospitals take online reservations for ER appointments

Lakewood Regional Medical Center is offering patients emergency room reservations, KTLA reports. For $15, a patient can book an appointment online between 90 minutes and two hours ahead of time. It's one way for patients to avoid long ER waiting room waits.

If patients who book a reservation are not seen by a healthcare professional at the Lakewood, Calif.-based Tenet hospital within 15 minutes of their scheduled appointment, their booking fee will be refunded. Lakewood is one of eight southern California hospitals, and one of 23 hospitals and urgent care centers in eight states, using an online appointment system for emergency care, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Hospitals pay about $3,000 a month for the service and recoup the money as the volume of appointments grows. Loma Linda University Medical Center charges $25 for appointments at its 54-bed ER. About 400 patients have made appointments so far.

Medical directors across the country have been calling Dr. Robert Steele, division chef for adult services in the hospital's ER. "I think this is one of those things that's going to sweep the country," he said.

Opponents of the system say that allowing people to pay to snag appointments encourages them to use ERs, although they may not need immediate care. As FierceHealthcare reported last year, some 100 million ED visits for non-life-threatening illnesses or conditions could be handled by urgent care centers or retail clinics.

Steele attempted to justify the ERs serving patients without life-threatening situations. "Just because somebody comes to the ER and it's not a life-threatening situation doesn't mean they don't need emergency services," Steele said. "Sometimes we're the only place that is open."

To learn more:
- read the KTLA story
- here's the Los Angeles Times article

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