To post or not to post ED wait times?

Recent reports that long wait times are linked to rampant hospital violence, as well as more patient deaths and hospital admissions, are just added motivation for hospitals to experiment with ways to reduce the time patients spend waiting in the emergency room (ER).

Some hospitals, especially those with multiple ERs, are posting wait times online, in waiting rooms, and on highway billboards to direct patients to the shortest wait time, reports the Wall Street Journal.

For example, Akron General Health System in Ohio live streams wait times of two freestanding emergency rooms on highway billboards.

Yet, it has stopped promoting wait times for its main downtown campus because of incoming emergent cases that alter wait times. One-third of its patients arrive by helicopter or ambulance and are seen immediately, which drives down the average wait time.

This highlights a concern with hospitals posting wait times on billboards and websites; the times might not always reflect reality. And in emergent-care situations, longer-than-expected wait times could pose major health risks to patients.

Nevertheless, hospitals hope that using technology to promote wait times can improve ER performance, streamline care, and inform patients.

Yet, Jack Mitstifer, chair of emergency medicine at Akron, suggests targeting billboards and websites at patients with non-life-threatening medical problems. "[W]e don't want someone with chest pain or a stroke going online to see where the shortest wait is," he told WSJ.

For more:
- read the Wall Street Journal's blog post