Emergency Room Waits Getting Longer

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.


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By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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