5 Reasons Why Hospital Queues Are So Long

There is no question that every patient dreads having to wait in a hospital emergency department queue. It can be a frustrating, time-consuming, and confusing process. Research backs up this experience: a study by Bleustein et al found that patient satisfaction is negatively correlated with longer wait times for provider care. Furthermore, physicians and other caregivers also perceive longer waits to represent lesser quality information and treatment. So why are the hospital queues so long?

Patient urgency is decided by triage. Because patients come into emergency departments with varying needs, the order in which patients are moved to a care room is determined by the seriousness of their injury or illness. Triage comes from the French word for ‘to sort’ and has been the system in place for medical care since the late 1700s. Immediate, urgent, and non-urgent remain the three main categories for patients, and patients who are non-urgent may experience significantly longer wait times than those who have more pressing needs.

Administrative information must be gathered prior to treatment. Anyone who has been to a hospital knows that a major portion of time before treatment is spent filling out paperwork, providing documents and insurance information, and working with administrative personnel to make sure payment is covered for the services that will be provided. One study on wait times for German hospitals by Kuchinke et al found that insurance status (uninsured, publicly insured, or privately insured) did have an impact on patient wait times in acute care hospitals. Patients with private insurance were less likely to wait for care than patients with public health insurance, a concerning and discriminatory trend that must be researched further and addressed within the medical system.

Not enough beds are available. The Globe and Mail notes that one of the main issues behind long hospital lines is simply the lack of acute care beds. Not only must each bed and hospital room be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before a new patient can enter, but critical care beds act as a kind of holding room for many patients. Often a patient may not need to be in the emergency department any longer but will not be well enough to check out and thus must remain in one of the rooms until they can be transferred to another area of the hospital. Because of this, emergency beds may not be available for other patients who truly need the rooms.

Ineffective doctor scheduling. A critical problem is encountered in emergency departments when patients are forced to wait on a care provider who simply isn’t in the building yet. On-call scheduling for emergency room care providers can be confusing and overly complex, often provided to different departments through paper lists or messy spreadsheets. The result is a low-tech system that may slow down physicians, nurses, and other caregivers because of confusion. Alternatives to traditional, chaotic call scheduling like MDsyncNET can enhance patient care by providing quick, accurate contact information and getting physicians to patients faster.

Emergency rooms have busy hours, too. Although true emergencies can never be avoided, patients thinking of putting off care until after work hours may want to rethink their plan. A poll of over 17,000 emergency department staffers found that most recommended 6 am – noon as the best time to check into the hospital, mostly because of the staff freshness and lack of traffic. After work and late into the night are generally considered some of the busiest and most stressful hours for both physicians and patients in the critical care arena.

Written by George Gallagher

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