What factors affect emergency room wait times?


Quick Answer

Factors that affect emergency room wait times include triage, diagnosis time, availability of specialists and availability of beds, states the American College of Emergency Physicians. Effective triage requires that patients with the most urgent conditions receive treatment first. Tests required for an accurate diagnosis often consume significant time. The specialist that can treat the patient may be away at the time of the patient's arrival, and the closest one may be at a different hospital, sometimes in a different state.

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Full Answer

External factors that affect emergency room wait times include closures of nearby emergency departments, the incidence of mass disasters and the timing of patient arrivals, explains ACEP. Mass disasters, such as epidemics, shootings and natural disasters, place a significant burden on hospital staff. Only an approximate one-third of all patients arrive during regular business hours, but hospital staff availability is highest during that time.

Long wait times may cause harm to patients, notes ACEP. Although triage is effective at allocating medical care to those who most urgently need it, most patients may wait excessively long during periods when the emergency department is under heavy strain. An emergency department operating beyond capacity may need to send patients to another hospital, leading to further delay in treatment and putting greater stress on the receiving emergency department.

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