Report compares ER wait times to get medication, see doctor and go home

jholleman@thestate.comDecember 29, 2013 

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MCT

If somebody in your family has broken a leg in an accident, you’re not going to delay heading to the emergency room while you look up hospital waiting times online.

But the well-prepared can do it ahead of time.

ProPublica, a non-profit journalism operation, has crunched the numbers reported by hospitals to the federal government and posted them in an easy to navigate database online at http://projects.propublica.org/emergency.

The numbers for emergency rooms in the Midlands aren’t likely to steer you away from or toward any particular facility. And these are averages in a field where every day is completely different from the previous days. Still, the database is worth perusing.

Here’s the abbreviated takeaway:

•  You’re likely to see a physician more quickly at Lexington Medical Center (25 minutes) and Palmetto Health Richland (28) than at Providence Hospital (40) or Palmetto Health Baptist (43).

•  But possibly because the most complicated cases often end up at Richland (which has the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the area), the average times before being sent home are shorter at the other major hospitals in the region – 2:17 at Providence, 2:21 at Lexington, 2:50 at Baptist compared to 3:16 at Richland.

•  Patients heading to Richland also are more likely to get frustrated by the wait and head home without seeing a physician. Eight percent of Richland ER patients do that, compared to 1 percent at Lexington, 3 percent at Baptist, 4 percent at Providence.

•  ER patients whose conditions are serious enough to require admission get to their hospital rooms quicker at Providence (5:08) and Lexington (5:28) than at Richland (6:16) or Baptist (6:28).

•  And if you did break that leg, you’ll get your pain medication slightly quicker at Lexington (46) than at Providence (58), Richland (1:12) and Baptist (1:16).

One possible use of the database is to determine if you would get quicker help by driving past your closest emergency room to one farther away. Based on the numbers in the Midlands, the answer is no.

The numbers for hospitals in surrounding counties – Newberry County Memorial, KershawHealth, Aiken Regional Medical Center and Tuomey Healthcare System in Sumter – also are similar. If fast treatment is the key, people in those counties are better off sticking close to home.

The four slowest times to see a physician in South Carolina are in the Pee Dee – McLeod Regional in Florence – and in the Upstate – Anmed Health in Anderson, Greenville Memorial and Spartanburg Regional.

The average waiting times at South Carolina’s emergency rooms is longer than the average for most other states. In most categories, the state ranks in the 30s among the 50 states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. South Carolina barely gets in the upper half in speed of being hospitalized, ranking 24th.

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