How to Fix the Emergency Room

ERs are notorious for long waits, endless forms and inconsistent care. Now researchers and hospitals are rethinking the ways they work—with impressive results.


By Ellie Kincaid
Sept. 12, 2017 10:13 p.m. ET

Hospitals are making a push to fix one of the most irritating issues in health care: the emergency room.
Armed with new research and strategies borrowed from the business world, some facilities are trying to ease the frustrating experience of waiting, filling out forms, explaining a problem—and then waiting some more.

Explore ER times in a searchable database of 4,800 hospitals around the country

In many cases, making things smoother for patients means completely rethinking how emergency rooms work. Some hospitals are scrapping the traditional triage process and putting patients straight into exam rooms, while others are creating treatment areas for patients with only minor complaints. Other facilities are installing software to monitor ER wait times and predict bottlenecks before they happen.

These pioneering hospitals model different ways for hospitals throughout the country to rethink the way they handle emergency care.

“There’s a lot hospitals can do that they haven’t done yet,” says Jesse Pines, professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University, whose research published in the journal Health Affairs in 2015 shows that on average hospitals have adopted less than half of the proven interventions they were surveyed about.

Adding urgency to the search for solutions: Not only are wait times dauntingly long, but they’re not improving at the national level. The median length of stay for patients treated in the ER and then discharged was 138 minutes, according to data for October 2015 to September 2016 submitted to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Researchers analyzing wait times in 2006 found virtually the same median.

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