Hospitals tout ER wait times

    Hospitals often talk up their world-class surgeons, others tout their high tech equipment, now some medical centers are advertising that they can deliver speedy service in the emergency room.

    Hospitals often talk up their world-class surgeons, others tout their high tech equipment, now some medical centers are advertising that they can deliver speedy service in the emergency room.

    At one suburban Boston hospital, patients can request a text message to see how long they’ll have to wait. Other hospitals use roadside billboards or flash wait times on moving signs just inside the ER waiting room.

    Mark Pauly is a health economist at The Wharton School. He says hospitals that promise short wait times need to make sure patients don’t show up and find an hours-long delay.

    Pauly: That may lead to more frustration, than if you just said: ‘Take a number and wait your turn.’ But on balance it’s likely to be a good thing for consumer satisfaction for the emergency room.

    He says shorter wait times can ease patient dissatisfaction, but only in the short term.

    Pauly: Longer term it would make more sense for the hospital to puts efforts into providing the kind of care that would reduce the frequency of such emergencies. This is a band-aid, maybe a useful band-aid in the short run. But in some ways it’s not really addressing the most serious problems of the health care system.

    Pauly says the promotions could work in cities such as Philadelphia where hospitals sit just blocks apart and executives look for ways to distinguish their hospital from the competition.

    Short emergency-room wait times may draw more patients, but new customers who come in through the ER are more likely to be uninsured, Pauly says, and maybe less profitable for the hospital.

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