Hospital System Puts ED Wait Times on Billboards and the Internet

Akron General Health System recently began advertising real-time emergency department (ED) wait times on six digital billboards in Akron, Ohio that are automatically updated every 20 minutes. The billboards show current average wait times at the main ED in downtown Akron and in satellite facilities in the Montrose area, Stow, and Lodi. The times are computer generated based on current patient information from the health system’s electronic medical records. This information is also available to potential patients on Akron General’s website. Summa Health System — an Akron-based competitor — is developing a plan to share updated ED wait times and other information via mobile devices.

Emergency SignAs hospitals around the U.S. are increasingly competing to grow their market share of emergency department business by using billboards, the Internet, text messages, or social media sites, some emergency medicine physicians see this as a potential dangerous trend. Patients with serious problems might mistakenly drive across town to see a doctor quicker when emergency department staff make sure that the most critical problems are seen immediately regardless of the posted wait times. Holding patients in the ED can cause deaths, doctors say. In a 2007 survey of nearly 1,500 emergency doctors by the American College of Emergency Physicians, 13 percent said they personally experienced a patient dying as a result of boarding in the emergency department. The new study is based on four years of Stony Brook’s experience with more than 2,000 patients admitted to nursing unit hallways from the ED. The study concluded that the common practice of “boarding” patients in the ED after they have been admitted creates an “out of sight, out of mind” situation. Once the patients are moved to the nursing unit corridors, nursing staff get a lot more creative and aggressive with workflow practices.

Source: “Akron General Puts ER Wait Times on Billboard, Internet” posted by Cheryl Powell on February 4, 2010 at