Hospital Patients Happy Despite Long ED Waits

July 26, 2010

A report from Press Ganey finds that patient satisfaction with hospital emergency departments has remained high despite a recent spike in traffic.

Lengthy waits at emergency departments might be annoying, but in the end, it’s worth it.

According to a new report from Press Ganey, patient satisfaction with hospital EDs has remained high despite a recent spike in traffic.

An evaluation of 1.5 million patients treated at 1,893 hospitals revealed that in 2009, patients waited 31 minutes longer to be seen than they did in 2002, the first year that results were tracked. However, the wait time in 2009 was only four minutes longer than in 2008, and EDs in some states were able to reduce their wait times.

The report outlined the challenges many hospitals are facing in providing emergency care. According to data from the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of ED visits in the United States rose from 90 million to 123 million from 1990 to 2008, while the number of hospitals operating EDs in the declined from more than 5,000 in 1991 to fewer than 4,000 in 2006. Earlier this year, an AHA survey found that 17% of EDs at reporting hospitals were “over capacity” at some point in that month while 21% were “at capacity”; worse yet, 22% of hospitals reported periods of time in which they diverted ambulances to other facilities as a result of capacity problems.

Despite all of this, “hospitals have managed to overcome rising demand and overcrowding to avoid a drop-off in perceptions of ED care,” says the report, citing a growing trend among hospitals to keep patients better informed about delays in care. According to Press Ganey, patients who reported that they received “good” or “very good” information about delays reported nearly the same overall satisfaction whether they had spent over four hours or less than one hour in the ED.

Not surprisingly, patient satisfaction scores were higher for those admitted into the ED between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. compared with those arriving after 3 p.m., and for patients coming to the ED on weekends, rather than early in the week.