Recently, we commented in this blog on the tragic case of a patient’s death in a New York emergency room – a death, largely ignored by everyone else in the hospital, and a death following a 24h wait time. Unfortunately, emergency rooms continue to make head-lines.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the average wait time in the country’s emergency rooms continues to rise. The Journal reports the results of a recent survey of 362 ERs. The average patient wait time increased over the last decade from 38 minutes to almost 1 hour. Very much in the spirit of this blog, Dr Stephen Pitts, the lead author of the study that was published by the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, attributed this increase to recent changes in supply and demand.
The overall supply of emergency care continues to decrease in the US – the number of ERs is down from 4,900 to 4,600. At the same time, demand for emergency care is up: overall population growth, an increasing number of uninsured patients, and increasingly long wait times for appointments have contributed to this increase in demand.
There are no easy fixes to the US healthcare system. Yet, this example illustrates that whatever the next healthcare reform might look like, it has to: (a) make emergency care more attractive to hospitals, many of which pay for the treatment of patients out of their own pockets and (b) improve the access and the management of appointments for patients who want to see a doctor.
Wall Street Journal, Aug 8, 2008 – Average ER Waiting Time Jumps to Nearly an Hour