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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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The quickest emergency room? The winner is Spotsylvania Regional

Dr. Oronde Smith is the medical director in the emergency department at the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center.

If you want to be seen quickly when you go to the emergency room, try the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center and go in the morning.

The Spotsylvania County hospital had the quickest wait times during a recent week-long survey by The Free Lance–Star. And like the other emergency departments in the region, its times were faster in the morning, compared with later in the day.

The Free Lance–Star recorded wait times at regular intervals for all four area emergency rooms. The survey spanned seven consecutive days in late May and included Spotsylvania Regional, Mary Washington Hospital, Stafford Hospital and the Emergency Department at Lee’s Hill.

The wait times used were those published on the hospitals’ websites. All four ERs publish “door-to-doc” times, or the time from the patient’s arrival to his or her being seen by a doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner.

The survey found that:

* Spotsylvania Regional was quickest. Its average times were first five times and second once.

* Lee’s Hill was second quickest. Its averages were first or second for four of the six times checked.

* Stafford Hospital was third. Its average times were second two times.

* Mary Washington Hospital had the longest waits. Its averages were last for four of the six times. Mary Washington is the busiest of the four ERs and treats sicker patients, many of whom are admitted for overnight stays. All of these factors affect wait times, said Dr. Jody Crane, one of the physician leaders at the Fredericksburg Emergency Medical Alliance, the group that staffs Mary Washington’s three emergency departments.

The newspaper’s survey also showed that the times for all four ERs were better than the national average.

“What is considered a very good door-to-doc time is 30 minutes. The average is usually an hour or more,” said Dr. Howard Mell, spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians and director of the emergency department at TriPoint Medical Center near Cleveland.

Kay Pollock, a database developer who retired from Dahlgren in 1997, recorded the times at the request of the newspaper. She received no payment.

Pollock, 75, is a resident of Stafford County and has lived in the area since 1981. She is a member of Life Preservers, a community circle at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg. The group focuses on health care and end-of-life issues.

The survey covered Sunday, May 20, through Saturday, May 26. Pollock checked the websites six times each day: at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and midnight.

The two hospital companies calculate their wait times in the same way, using rolling four-hour averages that are updated every 30 minutes.

(For more on the newspaper’s survey and wait times at the local ERs, see the story soon in the paper.)