Doctors: Emergency room wait times improving


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News, photojournalist DENNIS THOMAS and editor ROB DIAZ

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

Posted on February 14, 2014 at 6:40 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 14 at 7:02 PM

AUSTIN -- A report by a journalism watchdog group painted an unflattering light on the wait time in many hospital emergency rooms across the country, including ones in Texas.

The report by Pro Publica Journalism in the Public Interest shows the national and Texas average for emergency room wait times to be about 28 minutes. Most Central Texas healthcare systems had hospitals at or below that mark. However, some, namely Seton Medical Center, had wait times listed in the high 40s.

University Medical Center Brackenridge had the worst wait time at 56 minutes.  

"There was a time when that was an accurate number," said Christopher Ziebell, the emergency room medical director for UMC Brackenridge. "We’ve improved quite a bit since then."

Ziebell said the data in the Pro Publica report is about two years old.

"Currently, we’re at about 32 minutes," Ziebell said.  "That’s still a little bit longer than what you might experience at some other ERs, but again, we are a level one trauma center."

Ziebell said since the size of the hospital isn't going to change, more doctors wouldn't help, so changes were made to patient flow.  

"We had the realization that maybe we don’t just need to need to let a patient just sit and wait in a bed for two hours while we wait for their lab tests to come back, for example," said Ziebell. "We can let them go back to the waiting room and have the opportunity to assess another patient in that bed."

Ziebell said hospital location plays a role in wait times.  

"That’s one of the challenges of a watchdog group like this," Ziebell said. "It essentially considers all hospitals equal."

Ziebell said Central Texas hospitals located farther away from Austin often have fewer patients, which skews the wait time numbers.  

"The biggest difference between us and other hospitals is that we have not had a single time in the last decade when this ER has been empty," said Ziebell. 

David Thomsen, vice president of quality at St. David's Healthcare, said patients used to accept wait times of 30 minutes or more, but that's no longer the case.

"Now it’s down to 15 to 20 minutes," said Thomsen. "Then, we start looking around and we're wondering if they’re paying attention to me. That’s a significant change of the last few years."

Thomsen said that change is due in part to patients embracing technology. That's why St. David’s is using technology to reach its patients, including the use of electronic billboards.

In Round Rock, electronic billboards indicate the average emergency room wait times at the nearest St. David’s hospital. St. David's Medical Center has reduced its emergency wait time from 35 to 26 minutes.

Go here for Pro Publica's report. Go here to compare hospital emergency rooms.