Hospital Advertising: Longer ER Wait Better?

Hospitals should be careful advertising wait times for their ER.  It could be misleading.

Some hospitals are now advertising wait times for their ER.  Such tactics are receiving much publicity and attention. Hospitals are using digital billboards or referencing websites where patients can see current wait times. On the one hand, these hospitals should be applauded for communicating relevant patient information and for being aggressive with their marketing.  But there are some points that should be considered before advertising wait times.  

Wait times at a hospital’s ER are always fluid.  Circumstances can drastically change wait times. Serious injuries that are presented at the ER will take precedence over less serious ones. Should that happen, the patient could feel seriously misled by the information advertised. A person with chest pains could think they would have to wait a certain length of time based on advertised times and not realize they would receive treatment priority regardless of wait times.

“Frankly, my opinion is that it’s a very bad idea to put waiting times up on a billboard,” stated Dr. David Seaberg, an American College of Emergency Physicians board member and dean of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga for an article in the Los Angeles Times.  “When you get seen is a very complex process….To put out a number can be misleading.” 

A few hospitals are also buying a service that allows a patient to go online and for a fee, reserve a time to be seen.  This is a bit risky because a patient doesn’t always know how serious their condition is.  While they had rather wait at home instead of in an ER, they would be much safer in an ER in case complications develop or conditions worsen. Additionally, in essence, to “sell” appointment times seems a bit inappropriate for healthcare organizations. 

Again, marketing aggressiveness and a hospital’s efforts to be transparent and communicate helpful consumer information is to be commended.  But a hospital has the obligation to act responsibly and to do what’s best in patient care.  It can be questioned if advertising ER wait times is fulfilling that obligation.

When it comes to advertising ER wait times, perhaps the best thing to do is wait?


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