Tuesday, December 7, 2021
Following my post urging new approaches to "waiting room" protocols, I received several direct replies. I think I've touched a nerve. First, the fact that the replies were sent directly to my email address probably reflects a little "wait time" problem for the Typepad Blog Platform itself. More than one reader commented on the difficulty of logging in to submit their own responses to a Blog post. My apologies!
But, I'm always happy to read commentary, no matter the means of communication. Some people wrote to report innovations in their own communities. Among the most interesting have been people who reported "pop-up clinics," especially on the outskirts of larger cities or even more rural areas. These clinics are a direct response to COVID-19 pressures on hospitals -- and they make a lot of sense. Other suggestions have included the option of "beepers" being provided to waiting patients so that they have the option of moving outside the crowded waiting room without fear of losing their spot. If restaurants can do this, why can't hospitals!
I also heard from two friends who are physicians. Both reported their own frustrations. They can end up facing patients and family members who are worn out or angry by the time they reach the person who can diagnose and offer treatment. One doctor speculated on the trend of ordering diagnostic tests such as CT scans before the doctor's first communication with the patient, echoing some patients' suspicion that the tests increase the cost of the visit, and the question is necessity.
A newspaper that serves a nearby Pennsylvania county (York) also carried a story over the weekend reporting on average wait times at various regional hospitals -- and one large, high volume hospital was reporting waits of almost 5 hours. Could ERs publish this kind of information at the door, so that families understand that challenges ahead, and can consider options before checking in? Heck, Departments of Motor Vehicles routinely post waiting times!
And it turns out that a Medicare.gov Care Compare website, in addition to offering comparative information on nursing homes, also offers information about other health care providers including hospital emergency rooms. Evaluative items related to "quality" include reports on "timely & effective care, complications & deaths, unplanned hospital visits, psychiatric units services, and payment & value of care." Under the first category, when I searched a local hospital's data, I learned that Medicare considered this hospital to have a "medium" volume of patients, but the average ER wait time of 207 minutes was similar to much larger volume hospitals. I don't think anyone is likely to access this website while headed to the emergency room, but perhaps the information does facilitate better advance planning before an emergency to identify nearby options for the future.