This story from MSNBC.com discusses the latest in tactics by emergency departments to cut down wait times. The strategy is to post ED wait times (as near real time as possible) on billboards in various areas. The idea is that people, when they need to go to the ED, will look for the location with the shortest wait time...even if it means driving to a distant hospital.
This move and others like it, are in preparation for a new Medicare regulation that requires hospitals to report how fast people are moved through the ED. The MSNBC.com story notes that these moves are directed for less urgent patients and not actual emergencies. According to the article, the longer a person remains in the ED, the greater the risk of poor outcomes (like infection) or death. There is also increased complaints in relation to long wait times in the ED.
So, will posting wait times on billboards make a difference on ED wait times? I doubt it. I think people won't bother reading the billboards...you'd have to be on the road already anyway...I think they'll continue to call 9-1-1. What's also interesting here is the fact that we're targeting less urgent or non-emergency cases. Perhaps a better solution would be to point these folks away from the hospital ED completely. Sending them to an urgent care/walk-in care center for the ear aches, stitches, and sprains may be an even better solution.