About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star
Communication can take the sting out of waiting in the ER
In a competitive market like this one, hospitals understand how important their emergency rooms are. Half of all patients admitted to the hospital enter through the ER. In a real sense, it is the hospital’s front door. If the place is dirty or if it takes a long time to get care, patients might go somewhere else the next time.
The new “Pulse Report” from Press Ganey confirms these beliefs, but it also adds a new wrinkle: Communication between the hospital staff and the patient is vital.
Press Ganey is an Indiana-based consulting firm used by Mary Washington Healthcare and hundreds of other hospitals. The hospitals hire the company to survey patients after discharge to see what they say about their care. (The Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center uses Gallup.)
Each year Press Ganey summarizes its finding in a Pulse Report, the result of more than 1.5 million patient interviews. Last month it published its 2010 edition, which covers 2009.
The report repeats what common sense dictates, that patient satisfaction declines for each hour that the patient waits in the ER. But Press Ganey says that it’s more subtle than that.
The company reports that if a member of the ER staff talks to patients and tells them why they’re waiting, it reduces the sting from the wait. Patients who waited four hours, but who understood what was going on, reported the same satisfaction levels as those who waited one hour.
“Communication about wait time is nearly as important as the actual wait time,” the company says.
The report also says that patients in Virginia ERs waited an average of 4 hours, 22 minutes in 2009, down one minute from 2008. Virginia ranked 37th out of 50 states for ER wait times. Iowa hospitals were the top rated, with an average wait time of 2 hours, 55 minutes. Utah’s average time was the worst: More than eight hours.
(Mary Washington’s treat-and-release times were considerably better than state and national averages, according to data supplied by Dr. Jody Crane, ER doctor and one of the leaders of the physician practice there. Its times were: Mary Washington Hospital- 2 hours, 40 minutes. Stafford Hospital- 2 hours, 16 minutes. Freestanding Emergency Department-1 hour, 55 minutes.)
Other findings from the Press Ganey report include:
* Patient satisfaction with ER care nationwide had increased for five years in a row. Since 2008, however, it has remained stable. Hospitals maintained their scores even though they are treating more patients.
* Patients who arrive in the ER between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. are more satisfied with their care than those who arrive in the evening or overnight. That’s probably because of volumes and staffing, Press Ganey says.
* Patients who seek care on Mondays are the least satisfied. Saturday patients are the most satisfied.
* Crowding in the ER is not caused by patients streaming through the door. It’s actually caused by patients boarding there. The ER staff has determined that these patients should be admitted, but there are no beds in the hospital for them. Often they must wait for hours, even days, for an available bed.