Hospital Marketing: Using ER Wait Times as a Marketing Tool

 Emergency Room Sign         

Some hospitals are using new technology to communicate ER wait times.

In the October 12, 2009 issue of Advertising Age , Abbey Klaassen wrote about HCA hospitals in south Florida using technology to communicate their ER wait times.   Current wait times are electronically sent to electronic billboards with a RSS feed and the times are shown on the billboard.  They also have an iPhone app that provides the wait times and a texting service.  Consumers simple text “ER” to a number, supply their zip code to a text reply and the wait time and a phone number is texted back to their phone. 

And Progress West Hospital in O’Fallon, Missouri is using Twitter to communicate ER wait times according to Eric Becker of Suburban Journals.

We must commend these hospitals for embracing new technology and using it to communicate with consumers.  Sure, there may be some risks and some pitfalls.  Melanie Arnold, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health points out that communicating ER wait times presents all sorts of possibilities of misunderstandings among patients.  A patient may show up expecting the communicated wait time and be bumped by more serious injuries or health problems.

Ed Fishbough, a spokesperson for HCA acknowledges that communicating wait times is targeted to less serious walk-in patients,  “Obviously, people who have a serious injury or medical condition should call 911 or go to the closest emergency room.”

Despite the concern, and there are legitimate ones, you must applaud those hospitals who are using new technology and channels to communicate with the public.  Those who do will reap significant rewards.  Fishbough added, the network of 12 emergency departments in south Florida has seen “significant increases in the number of patients visiting its ERs”.

New technology and new media as part of the communication effort of hospitals is something that should not wait.

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