Emergency Room Waits Getting Longer

If the number of emergency rooms go down and the number of medical emergencies rise, it stands to reason that the average waiting time in emergency rooms would get longer, resulting in more problems and even deaths. That is exactly what is happening right now in the U.S, as a new study from Harvard Medical School demonstrates.

In 1997, half of all patients waited for 22 minutes or more in the emergency room. Today, they wait for 30 minutes or more.

Most disturbing is the fact that even patients with the most dire and urgent problems are subjected to greatly increased waits. From the linked article:

Even those experiencing a heart attack are not assured speedy treatment, with half waiting 20 minutes or more to be examined in 2004, up from eight minutes in 1997, the study found. The same was true for those with other serious health problems: By 2004, patients whose conditions warranted treatment within 15 minutes were waiting 14 minutes or more to see a doctor, up from 10 minutes in 1997, the study found.

These longer waits are due to a number of factors: shortage of doctors and nurses, an aging population, and the fact that for uninsured Americans the emergency room is the only method of accessing healthcare. So not only do more people go to the emergency room for non-urgent problems, but many Americans also do not have access to the preventative care that would reduce the risk of serious emergencies that need to be dealt with right away.

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