WJBF Extra: Local ER Wait Times Revealed

News Channel 6 Extra: Local ER Wait Times Revealed (Image 1)

People head to the Emergency Room when they are really sick expecting to get prompt care.  But a lot of times all they do is wait in the lobby.

“Everybody comes to the emergency department thinking they are the first person that needs to be seen,” said Children’s Hospital of Georgia Medical Director Natalie Lane.

I’m here.  I’m sick. Make me well now.  It would be great if that is how all ERs worked, but many people experience the dreaded wait time.

Doctor’s Hospital Emergency Medicine Chairman Mark Newton said, “Several years ago it was about 45 minutes as an average time to wait. Obviously, the sickest people are seen in zero minutes.  The less sick might wait longer.”

News Channel 6 uncovered Medicare.gov data showing the average times patients spent in the ER before they were seen by a healthcare professional.  Doctors Hospital was the shortest time with just 13 minutes.  University Hospital was 42 minutes.  Georgia Regents Medical Center was the longest time with a 50 minute wait. 

University Healthcare System Medical Director Steve Currier explained, “[Our] Emergency Department sees about 80 thousand patient visits a year and we see almost 70 ambulances a day, on a busy day.”

Dr. Currier said University Hospital increases rooms and staff during peak hours.  Patients also have a two-step assessment process where they are being treated while they wait.

At Georgia Regents Medical Center, patients are also assessed at their bed. A Fast Track system is also in place, which separates extremely ill from less sick patients with problems such as a simple cough or minor injuries, according to Dr. Lane.

At Doctors, one step is eliminated.

“We actually don’t send you to registration first.  You go to a medical provider.  First, a nurse and usually a PA or a physician at the same time.  So, we get to people quickly,” Dr. Newton said.

We also found how long patients spend in ER before they go home.   Nearly all three hospitals range from about two to three hours for the total visit.  But you can do something to help.

Doctors suggest bringing a bag or list of medications with you to the ER to speed up the process.

“A lot of times from that we can tell who your doctor is, who we need to call,” Dr. Newton said.  “We can find out the medicines, obviously, and any kind of complications, but it also tells us what illnesses your doctor may be treating.”

Knowing when to go helps too.

Currier added, “Across the country, not just here, between 10:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., an ER sees about 68 percent of its volume, 68 percent of its patients.”  He added, “You also see your sicker patients during that time so, it’s not like we’re seeing a runny nose or a sore throat.  You’re actually seeing patients that are having heart attacks and strokes.”

Dr. Lane agreed.

“The movies and the television tell us that Saturdays and Friday nights are very busy for Emergency Departments and that is true.”

And sometimes, going to the ER many not be the best option.

“If you’re having acute chest pain, acute abdominal pain, things that just started, they’re new, something’s different, then I think you need to be seen in the ER,” Dr. Currier said.  “But, if you’ve had pain for a few days, it’s not worse, it’s not better, that’s something that maybe, if you feel it’s appropriate, you can pick a prompt care.”

Doctors also suggest bringing a friend or loved one with you to the ER to help explain your condition to help speed the process.

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