CDC Reports Emergency Room Waits Getting Longer

Written by Andrew Traub

September 2, 2008

Nationwide, more patients are seeking care in fewer ERs.

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

According to the report authored by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the increase is due to supply and demand – more people arriving at ERs and fewer ERs.

In 2006, about 119 million visits were made to emergency rooms, up 32 percent from 1996 while the number of hospital emergency departments dropped to under 4,600 from nearly 4,900.

Other factors raising the wait time is the limited number of hospital beds (forcing people to wait in the ER room), shortage of surgical specialists, and patients turning to the ER when they cannot get an appointment with their doctor.

Emergency room patients at St. David’s five hospitals in Travis and Williamson counties waited an average of an hour to see a doctor so far this year, up five minutes from a year ago, according to David Thomsen, the system’s vice president of quality.

According to the CDC study, most patients spend more than two hours, but fewer than four hours in emergency rooms.

About 40 percent of emergency room patients had private insurance, about 25 percent were covered by state programs for children, and about 17 percent were covered by Medicare, with 17 percent being uninsured.

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