Emergency Room Waits Getting Longer

Crowded Emergency Departments Are Part of the Problem, Study Shows

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 15, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 15, 2008 -- U.S. emergency rooms are more crowded than ever, and that'sleading 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 1997to 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 thatAmericans spent waiting in EDs [emergency departments] in 2004," write theresearchers.

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

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

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

Some patients -- women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and people in urbanERs -- waited longer than others. Those patterns didn't change between 1997 and2004, "despite widespread efforts to reduce disparities in medicalcare," write Andrew Wilper, MD, and colleagues, who work at Harvard MedicalSchool and its affiliate, the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass.

(What are your ERhorror stories? Share with others on WebMD's Health Cafe messageboard.)



Show Sources

SOURCES: Wilper, A. Health Affairs, Jan. 15, 2008; online edition. News release, Cambridge Health Alliance.

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