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Survey Shows Lengthy Waits for ER Patients

All of a sudden if you find yourself in a medical crisis and need an emergency room, do not hold your breath.

Generally, patients wait for nearly 5˝ hours prior to being admitted to a hospital bed in the county last year, according to a survey released, the wait ranged from 3˝ to 17˝ hours.

For patients who were treated and discharged without hospitalization, the common wait time was 3˝ hours and the range was 1˝ to 4 hours.

Depending on the hospital, 1 percent to 7˝ percent of patients go tired of waiting and leave.

According to Dr. Roneet Lev, an emergency physician at Scripps Mercy in Hillcrest, every single emergency room in the county has a problem with overcrowding. The cause is bottlenecks of patients waiting for CT scans, MRIs, blood tests, specialist evaluations and, in particular, inpatient beds at the hospitals.

The overcrowding worsens by a growing number of uninsured patients who do not look for care for chronic illnesses until their conditions develop into emergencies.

The statistics, which Lev released, represent the first disclosure of countywide wait times for emergency room patients, she said. The state publicly reports each hospital's length of inpatient stays, but Lev said that no one publishes data on lengths of stay in the emergency department.

Lev, who leads the Emergency Medicine Oversight Commission of the San Diego County Medical Society, persuaded 19 hospitals to share emergency room actions and statistics. By doing so, she said, they perhaps will see how they compare with one another.

She spent months assembling the data and setting up a system so hospitals that have reduced their wait times and enhanced their efficiencies can share their knowledge.

The hospitals agreed to give the data as long as their individual wait times would not released.

Lev said that they are definitely frustrated by their wait times and their 'left without treatment' times. “This is monumental. Rather than working in a silo by ourselves – the people at Sharp are doing this, and the people at UCSD are doing that – we realize we are all in the same boat”, said Lev.

It could not be determined how the county's statistics for admitted versus discharged patients compared with emergency room wait times nationwide. Nevertheless, in a November report, the National Institute of Medicine said patients waited an average of a little more than 3˝ hours.

Lev's statistics were released at the second annual “Emergency Room Overcrowding Summit 2007” in San Diego.



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