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Wait times for ER posted
The region's newest hospital is posting ER wait times

 Patients can send a text message to check emergency-room wait times at Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY MIKE MORONES/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 6/12/2010

BY JIM HALL

The region's newest hospital is posting wait times in its emergency room to help patients decide where they want to go for treatment.

The Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center opened this week and is offering updated ER wait times through text messaging and its website. Electronic billboards also are planned.

The posted times are a rolling four-hour average, updated every 30 minutes, and based on information supplied by the emergency department.

They measure the "door-to-provider" time, or the time from the patient's arrival to the time he or she is seen by a doctor, physician's assistant or nurse practitioner.

Cell phone users can use the system by texting "ER" to 23000. This week, the average wait time at 5 p.m. was around 20 minutes or less. Yesterday, at 5 p.m., the wait was two minutes.

The new service "just makes sense," said Mark Foust, an executive for HCA Inc., parent company of the hospital. "Wait times are important to people."

HCA hospitals in Florida pioneered the system. The chain's hospitals in Richmond, Northern Virginia and Southwest Virginia also are using it.

"In Florida, it's increased volume for us. We believe it's increased patient satisfaction likewise," Foust said.

The system is intended for patients with minor injuries or illnesses. Those with more serious conditions, including bleeding or a suspected heart attack or stroke, should call an ambulance, officials said.

Long wait times in the ER are often caused by crowding and can affect patient outcomes, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians. Patients sometimes tire of waiting and walk out without receiving treatment.

Spotsylvania Regional's emergency department is the fourth in the region. Mary Washington Healthcare operates the other three emergency departments, but it does not post wait times. A spokeswoman said this week that the company hopes to add the service later this summer.

Jim Hall: 540/374-5433
Email: jhall@freelancestar.com


The three emergency rooms in the Fredericksburg area were busy in 2009, with more than 126,000 visits. Here's the breakdown:

Mary Washington Hospital

93,381 visits

Stafford Hospital (opened Feb. 27, 2009)

29,777 visits

MWH's Freestanding Emergency Department (Opened Oct. 27, 2009)

3,121 visits

--Mary Washington Healthcare

119 million

ER visits nationwide, 2006

3 percent

Annual increase in ED visits nationwide, 1996-2006

31 minutes

Median time nationwide from arrival in ER to being seen by a clinician, 2006

4 hours, 45 minutes

Average time spent in ER per visit for Virginia patients, 2007

--U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American College of Emergency Physicians