Waiting: is it the most dangerous part of an ER visit?

Most people would agree that timeliness is an important factor in good medical care. That is, the sooner a medical problem is correctly diagnosed, the more likely it is that treatment can be effective.

The problem is that in many emergency rooms, patients have to wait long periods before they ever see a doctor or nurse. In the Joplin area, several hospitals have wait times above the national average.

Far too often, a delayed diagnosis is a contributing factor to medical malpractice. Sometimes the delays are because an ER is understaffed, forcing doctors to hurry evaluations, which in turn can lead to misdiagnoses and a worsening of serious medical conditions.

A recent ProPublica report indicates that the national average for ER wait times is 28 minutes. It also notes that Joplin’s Mercy Hospital’s average ER wait is 36 minutes, more than 20 percent above the national norm. Mercy McCune-Brooks Hospital in Carthage clocks in at 49 minutes, while Oklahoma’s Integris Grove Hospital has an average ER wait of one hour and 25 minutes.

It should be noted that Missouri’s statewide average is exactly the same as the national average: 28 minutes.

The study lists factors that affect wait times, including population density and the number of ER patients per day.

One factor that might contribute to a slowdown in ER care is that in some places, a significant portion of ER patients come for dental care (toothaches, oral sores, etc.). For instance, in 2012 nearly 140,000 people went to Florida ERs for dental-related problems; nationally, more than two million people annually seek dental care in emergency rooms.

Anyone who believes ER delays contributed to hospital or doctor negligence should discuss the matter with an attorney experienced in medical malpractice cases.

Source: FierceHealthcare.com, “ER wait times on rise nationwide,” Katie Sullivan, Feb. 27, 2014

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