Gulf Coast Medical Center, in Panama City Beach, Fla., is one of the most recent hospitals to implement text-messaging technology to keep potential patients abreast of emergency room wait times. Although a growing number of hospitals, including Gulf Coast, post average wait ER wait times on their websites, texting allows Panama City Beach's six million annual vacationers to receive this information without having to search for a computer.
To use the service, potential patients simply text 23000, type "ER" into the body of the text and provide their ZIP code, and then receive a text message with the hospital's average ER wait time.
Hospital officials emphasize that ER wait times are for informational purposes only and should not deter patients from seeking emergency care. "Patients with medical emergencies, such as cardiac, stroke and trauma, are always seen immediately," Debra Williams, MD, a Gulf Coast ER physician, explained. "It's the patient with non-emergent conditions who is benefiting from being able to know our average ER wait time before they come to the hospital."
Times posted via text messaging or on the hospital's website represent the average time it takes a patient to see a medical professional after they are registered. Wait times are updated twice an hour and represent a four-hour average. Patient triage is not affected or reflected by this data.
Other hospitals providing similar updates on their websites, such as Licking Memorial Hospital in Newark, Ohio, reiterate that the service is meant to help people with non-life-threatening medical problems decide whether a particular emergency room or urgent-care center would be a better bet at a given time.
"We feel this information being available will help people make informed decisions about when and where they receive care," Rob Montagnese, Licking CEO, told the Columbus Dispatch. "We just felt making this information available was another step in making the community see how we're doing and how we're taking care of them as a hospital system," he added.