A recent Journal of Health Affairs study concluded that ED waits are getting longer each year. Wait times increased from 22 minutes to 30 minutes on average between 1997 and 2004, with the largest increases experienced by severely ill patients, and more specifically, those suffering heart attacks. ED visits increased from 93.3 million in 1997 to 110.2 million in 2004. Conversely, the number of hospitals operating a 24-hour ED decreased by 12 percent during the same period.
Dr. Andrew Wilper, lead author of the study, said, "EDs close because, in our current payment system, emergency patients are money-losers for hospitals. Planned admissions of elective patients who need procedures are usually more lucrative for two reasons. First, elective surgery patients can be scheduled more conveniently and efficiently, and second, they can be pre-screened for health insurance. Our study suggests that these perverse incentives are causing dangerous delays in potentially life-saving emergency care, even for those with insurance."
All demographic groups including those with and without insurance experienced longer ED waits with minorities and women experiencing only slightly longer delays than non-Hispanic white males. The research is the first detailed analysis of national trends in ED waits. Research was carried out at the Cambridge Health Alliance/Harvard Medical School using data from the National Center for Health Statistics. The authors of the study analyzed more than 90,000 ED visits nationwide between 1994 and 2004. To view an abstract or purchase the full study subscribers, click here.