When I worked in the ER, wait times were always an issue. Some days we had “only” a 2-3 hour wait, but many days the wait could be up to 4+ hours. The longer the wait time, the bigger the “LWBS” pile…which translates to “left without being seen”. Long wait times are sure to eventually weed out the people who came in but likely could have waited to see their own doctor.
Even for truly sick people, however, waiting in ERs is hard to avoid and this is where triage comes into play. The nurses have to pull in the sickest of the sick first and everyone else gets seen after. It’s not a first come, first serve system at all. In addition, there are other variables to consider that can increase the waiting room time:
- Volume of people waiting to be seen – the more people, the longer the wait.
- Acuity of people already being seen – the more sick a person or more complicated a case, the longer it takes to clear the room so another person can be seen. And, the more sick people will get seen first – always.
- A huge emergency taking all of our attention. This happens – and often…even with kids. One true emergency can sometimes siphon an entire ERs resources depending on how intensive the situation is.
- ER staffing. We need people to see sick people. Some ERs are short staffed on either the nursing or doctor side…or both.
So, this Reuters story was not a shocker to me.
My advice to families in the practice I work in has been the same for years: “If you think your child is sick enough to need an ER, call us 24/7!”
By the way, true emergencies don’t hide. You’ll know those and will be calling 911 without even thinking. Those tend to respiratory things – like asthma attacks or a child with an illness who is having trouble breathing. Or, an accident at home of any number of kinds.
For the other issues that you may have gone to the emergency room for in the past, your doctor’s office can likely handle it in the morning. The means always has to justify the end. If you are going to wait with your child 2+ hours in an emergency room, make sure it’s something that is truly worth waiting to be seen for. Your doctor’s office can help you sort that out! Call 24/7…that’s what they are there for.