Ten hospitals in South Florida have recently joined a growing national trend by adopting online reservations systems for their Emergency Rooms. These systems allow patients with non-life-threatening conditions to go online, enter their symptoms, and, for a fee, book an appointment for the Emergency Room (ER), allowing them to wait at home until the ER staff is ready to see them, and avoid long waiting times in the hospital emergency room.
As reported on May 21, 2011 by the Sun-Sentinel, ten Hospitals in South Florida, including hospitals in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, have recently implemented online ER reservations systems through partnership with a private company, InQuickER LLC of Nashville, Tennessee, which pioneered the technology in 2006 and operates the website, InQuickerER.com.
How It Works
Patients who have a non-life-threatening condition, such as a sprained ankle or urinary tract infection, can go to the website InQuickerER.com, or to the participating hospitals’ websites, and see when the next ER appointment is available.
For a fee of $9.99 (for the South Florida hospitals), the patients can enter their symptoms and reserve an appointment for the ER. The fee may vary by hospital or area of the Country. According to a previous report by ABC News, some hospitals in California were charging $24.99 for the service.
The patient can then wait at home and come in for the appointment, without having to wait hours in the Hospital Emergency Room with other sick patients and tense family members. InQuickER says it returns the fee if the patient is not evaluated by a health care professional within 15 minutes of the reservation time.
When an ER reservation is booked online, the system forwards the patient’s symptoms to nurses and paramedics at the Emergency Room intake desk, who may call the patient for more information about their symptoms and medical history, as reported by the Sun-Sentinel. If they determine appropriate, the patient may be told to come in to the Emergency Room immediately.
Many doctors express concern, however, that these systems may cause patients to delay coming to the Emergency Room when they face a true emergency. Dr. Ryan Stanton, spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians and an ER physician in Lexington, KY, told the Sun-Sentinel: “With a heart attack, every minute you delay at home is another minute you lose heart muscle and can have permanent damage.” He said he has seen patients try to “sleep off” a stroke or a heart attack, and he expressed concern that if they go online and see that the next available ER reservation appears to be a few hours off, this may provide a dangerous incentive to wait.
In fact, only about 10 percent of Emergency Room visits by adults under age 65 were non-urgent, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr. Ryan stressed, that these online ER reservations systems “need to come with a lot of teaching about what an emergency is.” People with true emergency conditions, such as chest pains or some abdominal pains and others need to go to the Emergency Room immediately. They should not wait.
Many recent reports, including those featured during National Women’s Health Week (which focused on Older Women’s Heart Health), have stressed the importance of knowing the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.
Emergency Room Trends
The ten South Florida hospitals that have recently adopted the online ER reservations technology, join four other Florida hospitals, as well as hospitals in ten other states in implementing the InQuickER system. According to InQuickER’s website, 46 U.S. hospitals have now adopted the system. In addition to the 14 hospitals in Florida, this includes 11 hospitals in California, as well as hospitals in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Patients have expressed strong preference for reduced ER waiting time. Susan Flanagan, a patient who recently made an online reservation at a hospital Emergency Room in Boca Raton, Florida, told the Sun-Sentinel, “There is nothing worse than sitting and being miserable in an ER for hours.” Expressing satisfaction with the new system, she said, “When I got there, they knew what was wrong with me and I was in a bed in five minutes.”
Surveys have shown that the average wait time in U.S. emergency room is four hours, and has been growing over the last several years. A 2009 study by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) found “it was taking 37 minutes to see emergency room patients who had conditions that required care within 14 minutes,” the Sun-Sentinel reports.
A significant new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), has found that over the last ten years, while Emergency Room use has increased by 30% in the U.S., a net 27% of hospitals in urban areas have in fact closed their Emergency Departments. This trend of closing urban Emergency Rooms, the researchers found, is associated primarily with market factors and profit-motive of the hospitals closing their ERs. As a result, waiting times have increased to 12 hours or more in some New York City Emergency Rooms, according to the new study’s authors.
Meanwhile, according to HealthLeaders Media, some hospitals are increasingly finding that using the online reservations system for ER services can greatly improve patient satisfaction, and thereby help drive “ancillary revenues” to the hospital, even if the Emergency Room itself is not a big profit generator.
In fact, “Promoting emergency department services [through online reservation systems] was one of the hot trends of 2010. And that’s likely to continue in 2011,” HealthLeaders Media said. In order to help drive traffic through the online ER reservation systems, some California hospitals have lowered their fees for the service from $24.95 to $9.95, HealthLeaders media reports.
Will online reservation systems for Emergency Rooms safely help solve the problem of growing wait times in U.S. Emergency Rooms? At least some patients are happy with the new systems. Patient Susan Flanagan told the Sun-Sentinel, “When I got there, they knew my name, they had my paperwork and they were ready for me.” “The only down-side is you have to pay 10 bucks,” she said.
Read the May 21, 2011 report in the Sun-Sentinel, Make an Appointment for the Emergency Room
See a previous report on online reservation systems for emergency rooms by ABC News
See also our May 18, 2011 report: City Emergency Rooms Closing – Linked to Profit Motive – While ER Use Increases
For information about some of the signs and symptoms of potentially serious, emergency conditions where you should go to the Emergency Room Immediately, and not wait, see our resource pages on:
Consult your doctor for medical advice. The information in this article and on HelpingYouCare™ is for information only, and does not constitute medical advice.
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