Text messages shoot back ER wait times

Add MetroWest Medical Center in suburban Boston to the list of hospitals that allow patients to avoid long ER waits by texting in to learn the wait time, the Boston Globe reports.

To use the service, patients text 63311 to 437411. The ER wait times will be texted back immediately.

The service is designed to help MetroWest build market share and improve ER performance. It is intended for patients who are suffering from urgent complaints like broken bones, cuts, abdominal pain, serious headaches or dizziness, but not anything requiring acute care, the Milford Daily News reports.

Since the ER text time service began last week, people have sent in more than 450 text messages for wait times at the medical center's ERs at Framingham Union Hospital and Leonard Morse in Natick, the Globe reports. Average wait times Wednesday afternoon were 24 minutes and 6 minutes, respectively.

Because an internal MetroWest Medical computer program already was calculating and recording updated wait times at the network's two emergency rooms, all hospital staff had to do was gave the ER text vendor access to the information, according to the Daily News.

An earlier MetroWest Medical marketing campaign promising 30-minute "door-to-doc" emergency room service boosted patient volume by 6 percent, CEO Andrei Soran told the Daily News, showing patients do shop around. MetroWest Medical's low wait times give it a competitive advantage, he said.

All this raises questions: If a patient needs non-emergent care and can afford to wait around at home if ER wait times are long, why is he planning to go to the ER in the first place? Shouldn't he consider other options? And what does it say about our health system if he doesn't?
To learn more:
- read the Boston Globe article
- see the Milford Daily News story

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