CDC Says Emergency Room Wait Time Averages an Hour

August 6, 2008

The average time that hospital emergency rooms patients wait to see a doctor has grown from about 38 minutes to almost an hour over the past decade, according to new federal statistics released Wednesday.

The increase is due to supply and demand, said Dr. Stephen Pitts, the lead author of the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There are more people arriving at the ERs. And there are fewer ERs,” said Pitts, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Atlanta’s Emory University.

Overall, about 119 million visits were made to U.S. emergency rooms in 2006, up from 90 million in 1996 – a 32 percent increase.

Meanwhile, the number of hospital emergency departments dropped to fewer than 4,600, from nearly 4,900, according to American Hospital Association statistics.

Another reason for crowding is patients who are admitted to the hospital end up waiting in the ER because of the limited number of hospital beds, Pitts added.

A shortage of surgical specialists also contributes. So, too, does the difficulty many patients have in getting appointment to doctor’s offices – which causes some to turn to emergency departments, experts said.

“It takes me a month to get an appointment for my own doctor, and I’m a physician, for God’s sake,” said Dr. Ricardo Martinez, an Atlanta trauma physician. He is executive vice president of Schumacher Group, an organization that manages about 140 hospital emergency departments.

The amount of time a patient waited before seeing a physician in an ER has been rising steadily, from 38 minutes in 1997, to 47 minutes in 2004, to 56 minutes in 2006.

Pitts added that 56 minutes may be the average, but it’s not typical: The average was skewed to nearly an hour because of some very long waits.

“Half of people had waiting times of 31 minutes or less,” Pitts noted.

Researchers also found that there has not been any recent increases in the number of patients arriving by ambulance, or in the number of cases considered to be true emergencies.

Black patients visited emergency departments at twice the rate as whites in 2006. Among age groups, the highest visitation rates were for infants and elderly people aged 75 and older.

About 40 percent of ER patients had private insurance, about 25 percent were covered by state programs for children and about 17 percent were covered by Medicare, the report found. About 17 percent were uninsured.

Some more findings: Summer and winter were the busiest season in ERs, and the early evening – around 7 p.m. – tended to be the busiest time of day. There were geographic differences as well, with hospitals in the South having the highest ER visitation rates.

Also, half of hospital admissions in 2006 came through emergency departments, up from 36 percent in 1996.

“The ER has become the front door to the hospital,” said Pitts, a fellow at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Some doctors said the report supports a call for increased governmental funding for hospital emergency services.

“Millions more people each year are seeking emergency care, but emergency departments are continuing to close, often because so much care goes uncompensated,” Dr. Linda Lawrence, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said in a statement.

“This report is very troubling, because it shows that care is being delayed for everyone, including people in pain and with heart attacks,” her statement added.

The results are based on a national survey of 362 hospital emergency departments.

Article by Mike Stobbe

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911 Called After Subway Left the Sauce Off

August 4, 2008

Jacksonville police say Reginald Peterson needs to learn that 911 is not the appropriate place to complain that Subway left the sauce off a spicy Italian sandwich.

Police said the 42-year-old man dialed 911 twice last week so he could have his sub made correctly. The second call was to complain that officers weren’t arriving fast enough.

Subway workers told police Peterson became belligerent and yelled when they were fixing his order. They locked him out of the store after he left to call police.

When officers arrived, they tried to calm Peterson and explain the proper use of 911. Those efforts failed, and he was arrested on a charge of making false 911 calls.

Peterson did not have a listed phone number.

Information from: The Florida Times-Union

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