ER Waiting Times – How Lucky We Are

May 9, 2009

skeletonI recently told readers about an ER practitioner in another country down-under who had some amazing stories to tell. When we first starting comparing notes, I will never forget the question he asked me. He asked, “So do you guys make people with colds and sore throats wait in the waiting room for like 8 hours before you see them?” I can’t say that the thought has never crossed my mind (or that if it was legal, heck yeah I would do it).

But I told him all about the two devils (Press-Ganey) and their effect on ER practice in the US where now the patient was a “customer” and entitled to customer service. The thought initially bothered me and my colleagues quite a bit, but now that I have a chance to see it from the other side, I’m kinda glad that we took this road.

In some ER’s in Eastern Europe, if you show up at night with anything less than life threatening (it won’t kill you in at least the next 45 minutes) there have been confirmed reports of the docs telling the patients to wait until they finish their coffee and vodka. Just hope they won’t be suturing, right?

Or in some parts of the Far East, if you are over 75 years of age, then your services will be cut back. One of my teachers in residency used to always refer to people over the age of 70 as “living on borrowed time” due to the average life expectancy. In these countries though, they take it a few steps further and essentially send the message, “hey, look you had a nice life already! Don’t fight it and go easy.” Seeing the way people are “surviving” in Nursing Homes though and the abuse they not uncommonly receive, it makes me wonder about my own wishes in this regard.

When talking about waiting room decor though, US ER patients really have it made. Free, and usually fresh, coffee; a TV to keep you entertained (wide screen plasma in many places now as well) and magazines arranged in a nice semi-circular pattern. Believe it or not, at the University of New Mexico they even hire a live harpist to “soothe” people as they wait. Try waiting in some ER’s elsewhere in the world where you might get malaria, suffer poisoning from the free coffee (or maybe that wasn’t coffee after all), waiting outside in the elements, or being told to go out and buy your own gauze and supplies because the hospital ran out.

So, the next time you have to wait a few hours in the ER to get your sore throat checked out, or to “check” if you are pregnant, just remember the alternatives. At least you will be greeted in most cases by people with a smile (damn you Press-Ganey!), all efforts will be made to get you well and your doctor will be relatively sober.

Add to Technorati Favorites