"This sounds like it is the most expensive place," said Morris, medical director of the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency. "Emergency rooms are there to take care of people who have emergencies."
San Ramon Regional Medical Center began using InQuicker in 2012 and sees about 33 patients a month through the service. Most are people who have sore throats, ear aches and stomach pains, said Sue Micheletti, the hospital's chief operating officer.
On the Web page where patients can select their time slot, they are given the option of looking for somewhere else for care: "Not an Emergency? Locate an Urgent Care Center near you."
Patients appreciate the convenience of knowing approximately when they will be seen - and avoiding the emergency room crunch times, she said. "That is worth a lot to them," she said. "When it rains, it pours. Our emergency room sometimes gets slammed."
Loma Linda University Medical Center in San Bernardino County, however, stopped using InQuicker after too many patients who hadn't made the appointments complained that others were walking in the door and being seen ahead of them.
The emergency room physicians liked it, but the nurses got tired of dealing with frustrated patients, said Kathleen Clem, chairwoman of the emergency medicine department.
Under the Affordable Care Act, however, Medicare reimbursements for hospitals are tied to results on patient surveys.
Dignity Health, which is also offering the online reservations at urgent care centers and doctors' offices, hopes that the new service will boost those patient satisfaction scores at the same time it minimizes wait times, said chief nursing officer, Page West.
The hospital network, which operates 39 medical centers in three states, began offering online reservations with InQuicker about a year ago. Since then, roughly 12,000 patients have scheduled visits for emergency rooms at hospitals in California, Arizona and Nevada, according to the company.
Bridget Duffy, chief medical officer at Vocera Communications in San Jose and an expert in the patient experience, said streamlining the emergency room experience for patients is necessary, but hospitals need do more.
Wed, Jul 02 2014