Wait times in hospital emergency departments are getting longer each year for all patients, regardless of race, ethnicity and health-insurance status, according to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs. Using data from the National Center for Health Statistics, Harvard Medical School researchers at the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass., analyzed more than 90,000 emergency-department visits nationwide between 1997 and 2004. Results showed that the number of emergency-department visits increased an estimated 18% to 26% as the number of emergency departments decreased between 9% and 12%, resulting in a 78% increase in visits between 1995 and 2003.
I think this is something of a perfect storm, said Andrew Wilper, lead author of the study, of the rise in patient visits and decrease in available space. One clear contributor is crowding, he said, also citing a lack of available specialists and limited availability of primary-care services as other leading causes of the growing problem.
Increases in wait time of 4.1% per year occurred for all patients but were especially pronounced for patients with acute myocardial infarctionknown more commonly as a heart attackfor whom waits increased 11.2% per year. Also, blacks, Hispanics, women and patients in urban emergency room departments waited longer than other patients, the study said.
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