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Emergency Room Waits Getting Longer

Crowded Emergency Departments Are Part of the Problem, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 15, 2008 -- U.S. emergency rooms are more crowded than ever, and that's leading to longer wait times for treatment, a new study shows.

The study, published online today in Health Affairs, shows a 4% annual increase in wait times for treatment in U.S. emergency rooms from 1997 to 2004.

In 1997, a typical ER adult patient waited 22 minutes for treatment, compared to 30 minutes in 2004. That equals "an extra 1,550 years that Americans spent waiting in EDs [emergency departments] in 2004," write the researchers.

Wait times rose across the board, regardless of the severity of the patient's condition.

For instance, patients with heart attacks waited 20 minutes for emergency room treatment in 2004. That's 12 minutes longer than their typical wait time in 1997.

Why the delay? The study notes several reasons, including crowded emergency rooms, America's aging population, shortages of hospital staff and inpatient beds, and growing numbers of people without health insurance.

Some patients -- women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and people in urban ERs -- waited longer than others. Those patterns didn't change between 1997 and 2004, "despite widespread efforts to reduce disparities in medical care," write Andrew Wilper, MD, and colleagues, who work at Harvard Medical School and its affiliate, the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass.

(What are your ER horror stories? Share with others on WebMD's Health Cafe message board.)



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