Waiting for the Emergency Room

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's a place you never want to end up, but if you find yourself inside an emergency room chances are you'll have to wait.

In Louisiana E.R.s, the average time from door to doctor is 27 minutes, just under the national average of 28 minutes according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Break that time down by hospital, specifically by the three emergency departments within Baton Rouge, and the times vary from nearly an hour to less than ten minutes.  So, what makes the difference?

"Those wait times can vary depending on the time of the day, the time of the year, the acuity of the patient- the complaint they are presenting with- as well as the census of the hospital," explained Our Lady of the Lakes' Medical Director of Quality and Patient Safety Dr. Stephen Hosea.

In most emergency departments patients sign in, give a chief complaint and go through triage- meaning a qualified medical professional determines how severe a patient's symptoms are. The more life threatening the symptoms, the faster a patient needs to be treated.

Our Lady of the Lake Hospital located off Essen Lane has the longest E.R. wait time in the city with an average of 53 minutes.  However, the emergency department here also sees the most patients: 140,000 each year.  It is also the only Level II Trauma Center in the area, which means it can handle specialty emergency services.

Hosea says the long average waiting time can be deceiving, and that hospital staff works hard to see every patient as quickly as possible.

"Even though they may be waiting, there's things going on behind the scenes that may help to facilitate their care when they get back to the room," said Hosea.

Those behind the scene activities include lab work and x-ray orders.

Baton Rouge General Hospital has two locations and two emergency rooms: one off Bluebonnet Blvd. and one in Mid-City on Florida Blvd.  Combined, the average wait time is 19 minutes with more than 100,000 patients passing through the emergency departments yearly.

"The biggest factors are, how sick are the people that are in the E.D. at the time that you come and really, how busy is the hospital, how many people are in beds upstairs?" explained Baton Rouge General's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Floyd Roberts.

Ochsner Baton Rouge located off O'Neal Lane  has the shortest E.R. wait time with an average of six minutes.  They also have the lowest number of yearly patients in the E.R., around 40,000.

It is Ochsner's goal to see every patient within 30 minutes of arrival.

"When the back of the emergency room department backs up, we can't see patients timely so we've been very committed to make sure that patients get to the right location at the right time," said Ochsner Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Operating Officer Dawn Pevey-Mauk.

There's one other big factor that influences the wait time at each hospital here.  Last year, the city lost the state run Earl K. Long Hospital, and its high volume emergency room.  That move left residents with one less option for care, and increased the caseload for other area hospitals.

Roberts estimates that the number of uninsured patients going to the E.R. has also increased by 50 percent.  Many of the patients treated at Earl K. Long, a charity hospital, were low income.

"There's also been a change in our community with closure of a number of psychiatric beds in the region. That has led to a number of patients coming to the emergency department for psychiatric care," said Roberts. "Psychiatric patients tend to stay hours at a time in the E.D."

Patients can help cut down an E.R.'s wait time by knowing when the E.R. is the best option.  Pevey-Mauk says that nationwide, emergency departments are often overloaded with patients who are not experiencing a medical emergency.

Doctors say go to the nearest emergency room immediately for symptoms like chest pain, stomach pain or any situation that may be life-threatening, including heart attack or stroke.  Hosea adds that if you have any doubt, an E.R. is able to treat any condition.

Doctors also recommend that you call 911 instead of driving yourself to the E.R.  Emergency responders can begin care immediately and often transport patients much faster.

However, if the condition is less serious, like a cold or minor sprain, your primary care doctor or an urgent care center may be the better option.

"When it's a concern that the primary care doctor can handle, we want them to see the appropriate physician," said Pevey-Mauk.

For a full list of average area emergency room wait times, click here.

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