Healthcare News & Insights

ED wait times in the news – 3 keys to lower them for patients

Wait times in the emergency department (ED) are in the spotlight once again after a recent incident involving a woman’s death demonstrates that hospitals must do what they can to get patients treated immediately – especially if they have symptoms that may be life-threatening. 

A 25-year-old woman from Milwaukee visited the ED at Froedtert Hospital with chest pains and trouble breathing – and died hours later after becoming frustrated with the wait and seeking treatment elsewhere, according to an article from CBS News.

Upon her arrival, Tashonna Ward received a chest X-ray, but wasn’t admitted to the ED. She turned to social media to express her frustration about having to wait two to six hours to see a doctor, making several Facebook posts in the lobby.

Several hours passed. Ward’s sister then came to the Froedtert Hospital ED to drive her to another hospital for treatment. However, Ward lost consciousness on the way – and responding paramedics couldn’t save her. An ambulance drove her back to Froedtert, where she was later pronounced dead.

The medical examiner’s report indicated that she had an enlarged heart, which was picked up by her initial chest X-ray.

There was no word from Froedtert Hospital as to why Ward was waiting so long without treatment, but according to a ProPublica analysis, the average wait time at the facility was four hours and 44 minutes.

Reducing ED wait times

Emergency departments at hospitals across the country continue to be slammed with patients, but it’s crucial for facilities to do what they can to streamline the screening and admissions process so more patients like Ward don’t end up dying because treatment was delayed.

To cut down on wait times and allow more patients to be seen quickly, try these strategies used by health system Kaiser Permanente, from a post published on KevinMD.

  1. Analyze staffing trends and patient foot traffic. Are there more doctors and nurses working in the ED during weekdays than on evenings and weekends? This can create bottlenecks and increase wait times during the peak hours when EDs are admitting patients. Make sure you know when your ED will get the most traffic (using data analytics, if your facility has the capability to do so) and have a plan in place to staff it accordingly.
  2. Make better use of nurses. Often, nurses are the ones asking patients’ questions when they first visit the registration desk to determine how to triage their health issues. Doctors will then ask patients the same questions later. Instead of allowing this redundancy, pass along the task of registration to staff who can’t be as hands on with patient care. This frees up nurses’ time to help doctors care for patients in the ED.
  3. Partner with different clinicians. One big contributor to ED wait times is when people visit the hospital with minor problems that don’t warrant emergency treatment. Instead of letting these people wait in the queue to see emergency care physicians, consider having a few primary care providers on staff who can address patients’ nonlife-threatening healthcare concerns, leaving specialized physicians to tackle the more complex cases.

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